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Hillsboro gets on base with team as Portland strikes out

New stadium nearly ready for Single-A Hops this summer


by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: 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. Don’t feel so bad, Portland — Hillsboro’s not trying to rub it in. Really.

On Tuesday, that city’s Parks and Recreation Department organized a tour of the state-of-the-art baseball stadium where the Hillsboro Hops will play. It is scheduled to be finished in the Gordon Faber Recreational Complex along the Sunset Highway in time for the first home game on June 17.

Hillsboro Mayor Jerry Willey cited the for the Single-A team’s move to the stadium as a major civic accomplishment in his recent State of the City speech.

But the 4,500-seat stadium that is rising along the Sunset Highway is also a vivid reminder of what Portland lost when the City Council failed to build a new stadium for the Beavers. The Triple-A baseball team subsequently 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,” Dana Haynes, the mayor’s spokesman, said this week.

Committed to market

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.

Hillsboro stadium on track

In the meantime, work continues uninterrupted on Hillsboro’s new baseball stadium. It is being financed with the issuance of $12 million in full faith and credit bonds and the sale of surplus city property for an additional $3.2 million.

The stadium is already boosting the Hillsboro economy, said Adam Bonner, superintendent of Hoffman Construction, which won the construction bid. Bonner 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.

During the tour, team president Mike McMurray marveled at the stadium design. The team had previously played in Yakima, where the stadium was little more than a high school facility. The Hillsboro stadium will have covered seating for most spectators, a welcoming plaza towards the parking lot, and a wide concourse between it and Hillsboro Stadium, the football stadium that already exists at the city-owned sports and recreation complex.

“There’s just no comparison,” said McMurray, pledging to keep his team and its employees in Hillsboro.

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 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.