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Hops create financial splash


Stadium construction, games generate strong economic activity

Hops General Manager K.L. Wombacher is still overwhelmed by the support his team has received in Hillsboro. Led by Mayor Jerry Willey, the city has built a new state-of-the-art stadium for the Single-A team, the first home game sold out well in advance, and the players will be honored in the upcoming Fourth of July parade.

“Unbelievable,” Wombacher said when looking out at the bright green playing field shortly before the first game.by: HILLSBORO TRIBUNE PHOTO: CHASE ALLGOOD - Construction of the $15.5 million stadium where the Hillsboro Hops play is just one of the economic benefits of having a minor league baseball team in Hillsboro.

But Willey did not push so hard for getting the team to move to Hillsboro out of the goodness of his heart. He expects the team’s presence to pay economic dividends for the city. Construction of the $15.5 million stadium was just the first step. Funded primarily by city-backed bonds, it created hundreds of construction jobs just as the region was beginning to recover from the “Great Recession.”

A report presented to the Hillsboro City Council before it approved the stadium predicted the team could generate $7.1 million in economic activity in 2013.

Wombacher said team owners will not release the details of their financial operations. However, he said simply having the team in town is a plus.

In fact, Wombacher is among the permanent employees who have moved to the community with their families, renting or buying homes in the area. The 25 Hops’ players will also live in the area during the season.

“Young guys don’t hang onto their money,” Wombacher said.

Hops’ catcher Grant Nelson said he expects to spend some of his salary getting familiar with Hillsboro and “having some adventures” in the area. Although Nelson said most of the team’s players will stay with host families, he expected a few to rent apartments.

Visiting teams will also contribute financially to the region, said Hops President Mike McMurrary. Players, support staff, family members, friends and visiting reporters will rent hundreds of motel and hotel rooms a day, and they will all eat out before and after the games.

One business already benefiting is the Front Row Bar & Grill, a sports bar within walking distance of the new stadium at 22277 Imbrie Drive. Front Row manager Matt Gary said business has seen a boost both before and after all the home games. According to Gary, many customers have been looking forward to the start of the season and predicted the crowds.

“We’re very happy,” said Gary.

Some new jobs have even been created due to the fact parking is limited at the stadium. The city has hired two part-time employees to help manage the additional traffic, and the Hops have contracted with a shuttle bus company to ferry fans to and from the Orenco Station MAX stop both before and after each home game.

Willey said he expects the minor league team to have a significant economic impact on the entire community, but he believes the benefits will go even further than that.

“Hillsboro Ballpark is much more than an economic driver to bring regional visitors to the city of Hillsboro,” Willey said. “It’s also a place where our community will come together to rally around our hometown team. Our kids will have an up-close view of what hard work and dedication look like on the field, and our young athletes will have a multi-purpose facility to use for football, lacrosse, soccer and other sports.”

Although there are only 38 home games in the season, Hillsboro Parks & Recreation spokeswoman Mary Loftin said her agency, which manages the stadium, has already received numerous inquiries from other sports leagues interested in renting it. One is a cricket league that includes a number of Intel employees.

“There’s already a good chance it will be used most of the year,” Loftin said.

Willey said he is ecstatic about Hillsboro being able to land a minor league team.

“Hillsboro Ballpark means a higher quality of life for our residents, and when our local businesses see out-of-town visitors stopping in before or after a Hops game, well, that’s great too,” Willey said.