Move cautiously on stadium deal


The prospects and risks of bringing another major league team to town are reason enough for the Portland City Council to move carefully - very carefully - in support of a plan to build a new stadium and to renovate an old one.

Last week, the council voted 3-2 to endorse a loosely defined arrangement that would increase the chances of landing a Major League Soccer franchise for Portland while also providing a better home for the Triple-A Portland Beavers baseball team.

Details of the plan, and especially the fine print regarding the city's involvement, have yet to be determined. But assuming that those issues can be resolved without placing city taxpayers at undue risk, we see nothing but positive outcomes for a city that could use a few victories right now.

The first public enhancement that would arise from this deal would be a new minor-league baseball stadium proposed to be built in the Rose Quarter. The construction of that 9,000-seat facility would allow the Portland Beavers to move out of PGE Park, which then would be renovated as the new home of a Major League Soccer team. As a side benefit, the enhanced 20,000-seat PGE Park also would provide a more suitable venue for the Portland State University Vikings football team.

We believe these investments in the city's sporting infrastructure will spark other private development as well as expand Portlanders' civic pride and opportunities to be entertained. But with that said, we also think the City Council must do a much better - and more detailed -- job than it has in the past of protecting taxpayer interests as it enters into development partnerships.

To that end, the council must keep these issues in mind:

• This is not the time to create a new urban renewal district to make the renovation of PGE Park more convenient. Multnomah County Chairman Ted Wheeler was correct to object to the use of urban renewal as a tool for this project -and the council was correct to rule out creation of a new renewal district. But the city also needs to stick with that decision.

• This deal must be structured so that taxpayers are not on the hook for ever-escalating costs. The person advancing this proposal is Merritt Paulson, the Portland businessman who owns the city's two minor-league sports franchises - the Portland Beavers baseball team and the Portland Timbers soccer team. Paulson, so far, is taking on all of the risk - including pledging $40 million of his family's money for the soccer franchise. The city hasn't really committed to anything, but it must be ever-mindful of public risk and avoid the possibility of another tram-like boondoggle.

• If the Memorial Coliseum site is chosen as the spot for the new baseball stadium - and that location is far from certain - the city must ensure that the veterans-memorial portion of the aging facility is appropriately honored in some other way, such as naming the new baseball park 'Memorial Stadium.'

• The City Council and others were right to bristle last week at the initially heavy-handed and arrogant-sounding objections coming from the Portland Trail Blazers, the only major league franchise in Oregon. But while the Blazers' interests in redevelopment of the Rose Quarter cannot take precedence over the public interest, the city also should work with the Blazers to ensure that their future success is not overly restricted by the addition of a stadium nearby.

In the midst of a debilitating recession, it's hard to muster support for ambitious projects. But bringing the excitement of Major League Soccer to Portland is a goal that justifies bigger thinking and even some public investment - as long as the City Council makes sure that the taxpayers are fully protected from the unexpected.