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Let's talk baseball ... and budgets

Today, if the forecast is right, will be a perfect day for baseball — and a perfect day for the groundbreaking ceremony at the site of Hillsboro’s new baseball stadium.

K.L. Wombacher, general manager of the Single-A team that will play in the facility, had hoped to announce the name today, but he needs to tie up some loose ends before that happens. Still, at a chamber-hosted luncheon last Tuesday, he generated a lot of enthusiasm for the “Hillsboro Fillintheblanks.”

With good reason.

Just think: A year from now we can be grabbing a hot dog and cold beer (a microbrew, we assume) during the seventh-inning stretch while watching a professional baseball game here in Hillsboro — and do it for less than a night at the movies.

Womabacher, who’s already moved here from Yakima, stressed that the short season schedule (just 38 homes games a summer) will be like three-dozen family-friendly community block parties.

But while today is cause for celebration, it’s also a day to remember that this is a city-owned stadium, funded with public dollars — more than 15 million of them.

While talk of bringing pro ball to Hillsboro started almost as soon as Portland lost the Triple-A Beavers two years ago, this deal came together fast, which seemed to work to the city’s advantage in hammering out a 20-year agreement with the team.

The quick action was possible, in part, because the city pledged its $15.2 million for the stadium construction through what’s known as a “full faith and credit” bond, which doesn’t require voter approval. Instead, the city councilors, in effect, give their word that the city is good for the bill.

Some have characterized such financing as “risky,” and in a technical sense it is, since there’s no funding source, such as a dedicated property tax surcharge, tied to the debt.

The real question, however, is whether the city can back up the councilors’ promise.

From what we’ve been told, it looks like a safe bet. Here’s why:

City officials estimate it will cost about $1.4 million a year to maintain and operate the stadium and pay off the construction debt.

So where will they get that kind of cash?

They figure they will pull at least $200,000 in parking fees, $150,000 in rent, $150,000 in ticket surcharges, $100,000 in naming rights and at least $60,000 in non-baseball rental income for the facility.

That still leaves a pretty hefty gap. It will close quite a bit when the city finalizes its concession agreement (likely keeping all concession revenue during city events). And, it’s possible that by paying a bit more up-front on construction, the city can lower the debt carried forward. The city has a healthy reserve fund, nearly $14 million, representing a comfortable 15 percent of its general fund budget.

But the stadium will never pay for itself — and we’re comfortable with that.

For while the city can, and should, put a price tag on the facility and its operations, there are some benefits involved that are harder to calculate.

For example, the city and school district have an agreement to share recreation spaces. Hillsboro’s recreation staff can use school gyms and ball fields for their programs and school officials can use city parks for athletic events. So, a year from now the school district will have access to a stadium with a turf field that can be used year-round for baseball, football, soccer and lacrosse.

With only 38 minor league baseball games a year, the city will be able to market the new stadium and the existing Gordon Faber Recreation Complex (with its own turf stadium and neighboring ball fields) for regional sporting events that will draw visitors for extended stays, boosting business for hotels, restaurants and nearby shops.

Finally, there’s the intangible factor of pride. Whatever name Wombacher settles on, it will follow the word “Hillsboro.”

So, while we wait for the team to fill in that important blank, we also look forward to the city providing a few more details on how this deal will pencil out. More than anything, though, we’re looking ahead to the completion of a facility that will give Hillsboro families an abundance of entertainment options very close to home.



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  • 2 Sep 2014

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