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Economy gets box seats at new stadium

Although Hillsboro’s new baseball stadium is still under construction, it is already boosting the city’s economy and will continue to do so when the Hillsboro Hops begin playing there in June.by: TRIBUNE PHOTOS: JAMIE VALDEZ - Construction of a new ballpark is moving along at the Gordon Faber Recreation Complex. The ballpark will be home field for the Hillsboro Hops.

That’s according to city, team and construction company officials who gave reporters a mid-February tour of the work site. With heavy equipment moving past concrete walls and steel beams, Adam Bonner, superintendent of Hoffman Construction, said 45 workers are employed full-time on the project and up to 400 people will eventually work on some part of it.

“A lot of these construction workers had been unemployed for a long time,” said Bonner, whose company won the bid to build the city-owned stadium in the Gordon Faber Recreation Complex. It is being financed with the issuance of $12 million in bonds at 2.74 percent and the sale of surplus city property for an additional $3.2 million.

Construction is on time and within budget, Bonner says.

During last month’s State of the City speech, Mayor Jerry Willey said the Single-A baseball team would employ around 100 people during the season. Some are already working out of leased offices selling tickets and clothing with the team’s logos.

According to team President Mike McMurray, players will move to Hillsboro after most of them are selected in the draft that will be held in March. McMurray says around 70 percent of Single-A players are new every year, drafted or recruited from high schools and colleges.

The tour was organized by Hillsboro Parks & Recreation, which operates the recreational complex visible from the Sunset High just west of the Cornelius Pass exit. It includes the Hillsboro Stadium, which hosts both football and soccer games, and a number of softball fields. During the tour, director Wayne Gross noted that the new 4,500-seat baseball stadium will also be available for high school, college and intramural games when it is not being used by the Hops.

An economic analysis by the Johnson Reid consulting firm commissioned by Hillsboro last year, said the home games would generate $7.1 million in operations and off-site visitor spending in 2013, with similar benefits continuing in coming years. Although some have questions those estimates, city officials say that are sticking by the projections.

State-of-the-art stadium

The Hops had played in Yakima until relocating to Hillsboro last year. Team General Manager K.L. Wombacher was impressed with the design and features of the coming stadium. He said the stadium in Yakima was little more than a high school facility, while the Hillsboro stadium will be state of the art.

“The stadium in Yakima met our needs, but this one will be among the best in the country,” said Wombacher.

Among the features discussed during the tour were: covered seating for most spectators; a welcoming plaza towards the parking lot; a state-of-the-art scoreboard with video screen; two private decks on the second level available for rent; five concessions stands; and a wide concourse between it and Hillsboro Stadium, the football stadium at the city-owned sports and recreation complex.

City and team officials said they are still working out logistics for the upcoming season, including how to get people to and from the stadium when the games sell out — or when a baseball and football game are played at the same time. The existing parking lot only holds 1,700 cars. An additional 300 spaces are available nearby.

Ideas under discussion include encouraging walking, biking and carpooling, running buses from the Orenco Station MAX stop, and hoping restaurants and taverns will shuttle customers to and from the games, much like the service offered during Timbers and Trail Blazers games.

The Hops begin play on June 14 against the Volcanoes at Salem-Keizer. The first home game is June 17. There will be 38 home games through Labor Day.

Coliseum’s future

The city, team and construction officials were not intentionally trying to make Portlanders feel bad during the tour. But the rising stadium is a clear reminder of what they lost when the City Council failed to build a new stadium for the Beavers. The Triple-A baseball team left town when its former home, now Jeld-Wen Stadium, was renovated for the Timbers Major League Soccer team.

The council originally agreed to replace the aging Veterans Memorial Coliseum with a new stadium for the Beavers. The council relented, however, after architects and historical preservationists launched a campaign to save the coliseum.

But even though former Mayor Sam Adams came up with a $31.5 million renovation plan for the coliseum two years ago, most of that work has not yet started. His successor, Charlie Hales, has not yet decided whether he supports the plan or funding arrangement. It includes $17.1 million in urban renewal funds from the PDC, a $4.4 million city loan to be repaid in 20 years with ticket-tax and parking revenue generated from events, and $10 million from the Portland Winterhawks hockey team, the coliseum’s anchor tenant.

“We haven’t got a position staked out on that yet. Policy Director Ed McNamara is going to take a look at where the situation stands, and what sort of timeline we have, before we need to put that back on the mayor’s plate,” said Dana Haynes, the mayor’s spokesman, last week.

Before he left office, Adams had scheduled a council hearing on the plan in November. But then the Western Hockey League imposed huge sanctions on the Winterhawks for multiple rule violations. The sanctions — believed to be the most severe in league history — include a $200,000 fine, the suspension of the General Manager and Head Coach Mike Johnson for the remainder of the 2012-2013 season, and prohibitions against participating in the first five rounds of the 2013 WHL Bantam Draft and the first rounds of the 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017 WHL Bantam drafts.

When the sanctions caused some council members to question the financial viability of the team, Adams canceled the hearing. Winterhawks President Doug Piper says the team’s future and commitment to Portland was never in any doubt, however.

“We are doing very well and are very committed to the Portland market,” Piper said this week.

Piper says Winterhawks are prepared to fulfill their $10 million commitment to the renovation process, even though the WHL board of directors refused to lift or reduce the sanctions last week at its meeting in Las Vegas.

Among other things, Piper says the team is very pleased that the city went ahead and replaced the ice plant and floor in the coliseum during the summer. The skating surface was also increased from 185 to 200 feet, the size required for National Hockey League teams.

The vast majority of the renovation work has not yet begun, however. Among other things, the plan developed by Adams calls for the wiring, plumbing, kitchens, seats, bathrooms, and heating and cooling systems in the coliseum to be replaced.

Before he left office, Adams rescheduled the hearing on the coliseum renovation plan for March 13. It is unclear at this time whether Hales will proceed with the hearing, delay it, or choose to revisit the entire project, creating new uncertainty for the future of the coliseum.




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