Legislators dealing with a foul economy may balk at stadium bill

The failure by state legislators to pass a partial stadium-financing bill could squelch efforts to bring major league baseball to Portland.

And while baseball proponents believe that the measure has strong backing, one Oregon Senate leader predicts that the state's sour economy will temper any legislative support.

Sen. Ryan Deckert, D-Beaverton, said the measure, which will be introduced in the House on Wednesday or Thursday, will garner less support than a similar bill did during the last regular session of the Legislature.

The new version would fund $150 million of the stadium through bonds repaid by state income taxes levied on the salaries of players and team executives.

Failure to pass the bill would provide a serious Ñ if not final Ñ setback to baseball supporters' efforts to have the Montreal Expos relocate to Portland, said David Kahn, who heads the Oregon Stadium Campaign.

Asked if a negative vote would kill the stadium proposal, Kahn said, 'I think until something else materializes that would replace that amount of money, sure. É It's critical that it passes.'

The measure passed the House two years ago, but then-Senate President Gene Derfler, R-Salem, refused to push a modified version of it to a vote.

'It'll be very rough sledding,' predicted Deckert, who sponsored the bill two years ago. 'We have many big issues facing us, and right now my plate is full' Ñ with higher education, technology and public schools funding.

Kevin Campbell, a lobbyist representing the Oregon Stadium Campaign, believes that the measure stands a good chance of passing.

'People are recognizing that this is one of the very few things the Legislature can do that will result in real job creation,' Campbell explained. 'The Legislature doesn't have many options like that here, and this is a good one. We've created a strategy that doesn't have an impact on other general fund programs.'

Campbell said he believes that the measure could attract more than 40 votes in the House; it needs 31 to pass. He made no predictions on the Senate vote.

This year's bill will be introduced by the House Trade and Economic Development Committee. Deckert stopped short of saying he wouldn't back the measure but noted: 'Again, it's very rough sledding. Particularly in the Senate, it starts out in a rough spot.'

Trip touts Oregon fans

Deckert's pronouncement comes after a contingent from Portland met with Major League Baseball officials in hopes of luring the Montreal Expos for the 2004 season. Major League Baseball, which owns the Expos, wants to find a new owner and home for the struggling team.

The Kahn-led contingent presented a comprehensive analysis March 20 to officials, spelling out Portland's plusses, as well as various team revenue projections and the stadium financing proposal.

While baseball officials will not talk on the record about relocation, Kahn said Portland's presentation received a positive response from Jerry Reinsdorf, who is relocation committee chairman and owner of the Chicago White Sox.

'He said we moved the ball forward,' Kahn said.

Trip attendees told officials that Oregon residents have traditionally supported the Portland Trail Blazers and teams from the University of Oregon and Oregon State University. The Blazers perennially rank among the NBA's league leaders in paid attendance and ticket sales, Kahn said.

What's more, attendees said, the state registers high television rankings for Seattle Mariners games.

Campaign leaders project that a Portland team would generate about $114 million in revenue during 2007, the anticipated first year of a new stadium. Approximately $59 million of that would come through ticket sales, assuming that 95 percent of the seats in a facility holding 42,000 fans are sold.

The revenue projections would put a Portland team about in the middle of the major league pack.

The team would generate $81.5 million in revenue during its first year in PGE Park, the likely temporary venue for a Portland big-league team, campaign leaders said.

The campaign also hopes to land a stadium-naming rights deal that would bring in $2.5 million a year. Kahn said such deals typically last for 20 years.

The stadium group told baseball officials that 53 percent of the seats in a new facility would be priced at $20 or lower.

Accounting for the millions

The financing plan presented to baseball officials, assembled by the stadium campaign, would raise between $368 and $388 million. That money would include:

• $150 million that would come through the state Legislature's team-tax proposal, which would pay off stadium bonds

• Between $10 million and $30 million from tax increment financing should the stadium sit in an urban renewal district

• $70 million from a team owner

• $49 million from a 10 percent surcharge on tickets

• $54 million from a new hotel/motel and vehicle rental tax

The region's hospitality industry, Kahn said, is willing to consider a 1 percent hotel/motel tax increase in Multnomah County and a 0.5 percent increase in Washington and Clackamas counties.

The proposal didn't stipulate how much the vehicle tax would increase; the levy, currently at 12.5 percent, would only increase in Multnomah County.

About $30 million also would emerge from 'seat licenses' charged to those who reserve the right to buy high-end seats early in the season-ticket selling process. The measure would call for fans to pay annual fees for the license over several years; the stadium group has not decided exactly how a Portland seat license would work.

Another $5 million could come from creating a 'local improvement' or 'business improvement' district around the stadium. Such districts are funded by local property owners, who chip in for improvements in streets, sidewalks, lighting and other infrastructure needs.

Mark Gardiner, who served as financial adviser when the city of San Francisco built Pac Bell Park for the baseball Giants, said overall the plan looks like it could work. He does have two concerns. For starters, the plan doesn't take into account the possibility of including a roof on a new stadium.

'Then you have to ask, 'Where would they come up with the other $100 million,' ' asked Gardiner, who, as Portland Family Entertainment's co-chairman, helped secure financing for PGE Park's 2001 renovation.

What's more, Gardiner said the plan does not include the costs of renovating PGE Park for temporary big-league usage, which could fall to the new team owner.

The campaign also must consider the territorial fees required to reserve a Portland major league team's status. The fees guarantee a team's right to operate unfettered in a given territory.

'The last time that was done was in Phoenix (nearly 10 years ago), and it was $7.5 million,' Gardiner said. 'On a net basis, that (fee) could be as significant of an issue as renovating PGE Park.'

Contact Andy Giegerich at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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