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Portland mayor doesn't want to spend a lot, but Hales open to making sports-related deals

by: TRIBUNE PHOTOS: JAIME VALDEZ - Portland Mayor Charlie Hales, who works out regularly at 24 Hour Fitness, does a bent-over-row exercise with personal trainer Steven Brock.Charlie Hales is the first to admit he’s not a big sports fan.

Casual fan, maybe. But Portland’s mayor isn’t going to spend time poring over baseball linescores or arguing the merits of Joel Freeland’s player efficiency rating.

Hales, though, seems aware how important sports can be to the fabric of a community and a city. The Alexandria, Va., native and University of Virginia graduate knows there are many Portlanders who are as passionate about the Blazers or Timbers as he is about streetcars.

Hales, 58, sat down with the Portland Tribune for a sports-related question-and-answer sessions.

TRIB: Were sports part of your life growing up?

HALES: Not a lot. I played Little League baseball for a while. I started to play on my high school football team until I injured a knee. I was on my high school tennis team for a while, but I was involved in a lot of other stuff.

TRIB: Were you a sports fans during your time at Virginia?

HALES: UVA had a history of not being a sports school, but I was there right before the glory years of basketball with Ralph Sampson, when we were nationally ranked. We had good basketball teams that were fun to watch. It was a strange experience at an academical village, as Thomas Jefferson called it in the day. People at UVA didn’t know quite know what to make of it.

TRIB: Did you go to the basketball games?

HALES: Oh yeah, everybody went to the games. It was like, “Wow, this is new. Let’s try going to a sports event.” It was these nerdy law students or political science types like me showing up for games. But really, I was a non-sports guy at pretty much a non-sports school.

TRIB: Do you have an interest in spectator sports today?

HALES: I’ve been in and out with watching sports over the course of my lifetime. I don’t have a lot of time to get involved with the sports teams of Portland, but I went to the Timbers’ opener and it was wonderful. Josh Alpert (his policy director) is going to take me to a Winterhawks game soon. We went to see the Stanley Cup when it was at the Oregon Historical Society. That was great. We saw it with (Trail Blazers President) Chris McGowan, whose name is on the cup.

My relationship with sports in Portland now is a little bit like my relationship with sports when I was at UVA. I haven’t focused on it in my own life, but I think it’s wonderful what it does for us. I’ve been to a few Timbers games. Haven’t been to a Thorns game yet, which is terrible because I want to go. I’ve been to Blazers games, though not this season. They’re having a good season, so I’m proud of them.

I’m more in the reflective glow of what’s happening in sports in the city, which I love. I refer to the moment during the Timbers’ opener where they pulled up a tifo that said, “This is how the world knows where we are,” which I thought was wonderful. You can’t be in the neighborhood of the Timbers Army without getting fired (up). The energy of that young crowd that loves the Timbers and the Thorns was pretty amazing, and I love what that does to Portland.

TRIB: Do you play any sports for fun, or do anything for


HALES: I go to the gym three days a week and do weights and aerobics so I can get through my 10 budget meetings a day. I have a great personal trainer, Steven Brock, who makes sure I lift the right way. My wife, Nancy, and I sail. We own a boat moored on the Columbia. I’m a lifelong sailor, canoeist and backpacker, and an occasional tennis player with Nancy.

TRIB: You’ve long been an advocate for funding of public parks. So you believe in recreation?

HALES: I see how important it is for kids to have things like outdoor school, sports programs, music and art. I’m glad we got music back into our schools.

There are a lot of kids who make it to graduation not because of what’s happening in the classroom, but because of what happens after school — sports or band or drama.

I have a son who is a stage manager at the Milagro Theatre. He’s there because he was a drama kid at Lincoln. His after-school activity led to his job after college. I’m a believer that we need to get our kids outside, and give kids lots of reasons to be excited about school. It might be shop class or football that keeps that kid in school and moving toward graduation.

TRIB: You have five children. Are any of them athletes?

HALES: We have a blended family of 20- and 30-somethings. Rob, our youngest, was the quarterback on the Stevenson (Wash.) High football team. All five kids played soccer for at least a while. Katelyn probably played the longest. She’s now a modern dancer, so fitness turned into her professional world.

by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Portland Mayor Charlie Hales does a plank exercise during one of his regular morning sessions at 24 Hour Fitness, as personal trainer Steven Brock checks his form.TRIB: The Portland Tribune recently ran a pair of stories on the possibility of the Oakland A’s relocating to Portland, which would require finding a suitable temporary facility and the construction of a stadium. What are your thoughts on the


HALES: I’ve always liked the idea of baseball in Portland. I went to (Triple-A Portland) Beaver games back in the day. Although I’m happy for the Timbers and Thorns, I was sorry it ended up being a zero-sum transaction in which we gave up one sport to get another.

The Portland way is that we don’t write $100 million checks to billionaires in order to get the sports we want. We didn’t have to do that with (Trail Blazers owner) Paul Allen. We didn’t have to do that with (Timbers owner) Merritt Paulson. We got a responsible deal in which a private party put up the lion’s share of the money to make a good thing happen. I’m proud of Portland for us being clear and sensible about that approach to these transactions.

When the baseball transaction comes — and I hope it’s when, not if — it needs to be that kind of deal, where we’re not asking the general public to subsidize my favorite sport or yours. But in the name of the general good, the city has skin in the game for how we make it happen. How that works, I’m not sure, but you know it when you see it. The deal with Paul Allen was a great deal for the city, and he has been a responsible partner all along.

TRIB: Except, perhaps, when he allowed the Rose Garden to go into bankruptcy in 2005, before reacquiring the arena in 2007.

HALES: That’s fair. That was a regrettable chapter. But by and large, it’s been a fair deal for the city, and he supplied the bulk of the transaction. Same thing with Merritt Paulson. In both cases, it shows that we’re not so sports-crazed a city that we will write a $100 million check to a billionaire. We’re just not going to do that.

TRIB: When a stadium gets built, it is normally funded via public-private partnership. Are you in favor of city money, whether through taxes or bond sales, going toward a project like that?

HALES: Yeah, within reason. Sports make us a complete city, just like a parks system or a convention center or a convention center hotel or a good airport. All those things make us culturally complete as well as economically complete. So we subsidize the arts, which help make us a complete city. All these things are amenities that matter. It’s why people move here and stay here and brag about the city to the next business prospect.

TRIB: What do you feel should happen with Veterans Memorial Coliseum?

HALES: The coliseum is a Rubik’s Cube. There have been some really interesting notions floated lately that haven’t yet come to pass about the next chapter for the coliseum. I’m unmoved by the prospect of just limping along. I want us to find a real feature for that arena. We all have to contemplate the “what-if-we-can’t-find-one” question, but I’m really interested in finding that good idea, that partner or set of partners that can help something great happen there. But just muddling through with, “Let’s patch the roof and get by for another 10 years,” that’s not very good.

TRIB: Do you want the coliseum to remain?

HALES: I’m open-minded about it. If it ever came down to that we have no use for this building and we have to demolish it, there would be a huge backlash from at least some of the community — the ones who revere the building and the memories of what have happened in the building and think it’s an appalling idea we would ever demolish the thing.

In this city, it’s a little bit like the monkey swinging from one branch to another. You don’t let go of one branch until you’ve got the next one. We shouldn’t tear down the coliseum with no clue of what comes next. The idea of putting a major league park there in place of the coliseum, that’s still a possibility. ... If time moves on to some great new thing where eventually people would say, “there used to be a coliseum there, but now there’s this wonderful baseball park,” that’s great. But you have to know where the next branch is before you just demo it.

TRIB: Advocates for a major league park say there is enough space there to build on the space where the coliseum is


HALES: And there are some blocks around the area, as well, a couple of which are occupied by unremarkable two-story parking garages that could go away in favor of something better. So the city has a big site there for something.

TRIB: The feeling by many is it takes strong political leadership for something like that to happen. Do you feel inclined to get involved in pursuit of a major league team, or even a National Hockey League team?

HALES: I love that part of the job, actually. Part of what a mayor does is make agreements in the public interest for the next big thing. We’ve done a couple of those on a smaller scale lately — the Major League Soccer All-Star Game this summer and the 2016 World Indoor Track & Field Championships. I’m really excited about those events.

I like that deal-making part of being mayor, and I’m comfortable with that, particularly after having spent 10 years in the private sector. I was working for a big engineering company, HDR, as a project manager for light rail and streetcar projects around the country. I was negotiating deals, including the purchase of other companies.

Hopefully that will be useful for helping make the next

big sports thing happen in


TRIB: There has been a move to try to get the NBA All-Star Game to Portland. We’re one of the few member cities that has never hosted the game. What do you think?

HALES: We will show people with the MLS All-Star Game and World Indoor Track & Field championships that we’re a great host city. People want to have a good time in the city they visit. The national TV networks need to be accommodated. The experience of coming to Portland for a convention, a sports event or anything else should be great, because we’re a great city to visit. We’re going to show people a good time when they come here for those two events, and that bodes well for potentially hosting an NBA All-Star Game. And Chris’ interest will hopefully put us into contention.

TRIB: The official excuse for the NBA has always been there is no convention center hotel.

HALES: The governments involved on that project here — city, metro, everybody — have said, “Thumbs up, let’s get going.” We’re just waiting to get litigation out of the way so they can start the bulldozers and make it happen.

TRIB: There is an element that would like to bring a future Winter Olympics to Portland. Would you be in favor? Could it be done here?

HALES: That’s a whole different proposition. I know Vancouver (British Columbia) Mayor Gregor Robertson. I watched what they went through for the (2010) Olympics. The public expenditure required to be an Olympic city has gone from high to stratospheric. Look what was just spent in Russia — unbelievable. And in China ... these events have become geopolitical. That’s sad, but true. They’re not just a big sporting event anymore. The cost has gone from millions to hundreds of millions to billions of dollars.

Given who Portland is, I don’t think that’s a good fit. We’re not cheap, but we’re prudent. We will spend money on the public good, but we build things for us and others notice, rather than build things to put ourselves on the map. That’s part of the Portland character. We didn’t do the deals with the Timbers and Thorns to draw attention to ourselves. We did it because soccer looked like it would be fun.

We have this affectionate relationship with our teams because we enjoy them being part of Portland ... the Olympics is such an arms race. I don’t think we’re in it.

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Twitter: @kerryeggers

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