Passtimes and participation

Baseball… How I love a good baseball game on a sunny afternoon in Portland. Being able to watch the triple-A Beavers play in a classic downtown ballpark at an affordable price doesn’t hurt either. Unfortunately, most Portlanders don’t seem to have the same zeal for the old passtime as do I. Maybe baseball isn’t in the cards for Portland — or, as some suggest, perhaps the city has graduated to the major leagues. At least one fan-base is sure of Portland’s major league credentials… but they’re not baseball fans.

In addition to owning the Beavers, Merritt Paulson (son of Henry) also owns the Portland Timbers of the United Soccer Leagues (not a typo). Like the Beavers, the Timbers play their games in charming PGE Park. Unlike the Beavers, Portland’s soccer team attracts a solid, if not ravenous fan-base, known lovingly as the Timbers Army. While not everyone is convinced that Portland is ready for Major League Baseball, Paulson and the Timbers Army have no doubt that the city is primed for Major League Soccer. If all goes as planned, the Timbers will move up to MLS in 2011.

What does this have to do with planning? Well, in order for the Timbers to ascend to the senior soccer league, Paulson and MLS insist that the Beavers have to find a new home so that PGE Park can be converted to a soccer-only stadium. Mayor Sam Adams, who advocated the Timbers’ move to MLS during his campaign, has provided unabashed support for the idea, as has commissioner Randy Leonard.   Still, the sense is that most Portlanders remain lukewarm.

Initially, the Adams hoped to gain support for the construction of a stadium at the current site of Memorial Coliseum (considered a modernist masterpiece by some), along with the development of a new commercial district. Unfortunately for the mayor, this proposal landed with a thud. Now Adams is pushing for the construction of a baseball stadium where Lents Park currently rests, further away from the city center. As this Willamette Week article suggests, community outcry at early public meetings could make a ballpark in Lents untenable. Additionally, the stadium would siphon away urban renewal funds that are otherwise tagged for affordable housing and business improvement in Lents, which has raised eyebrows city-wide, even within other city agencies.  Mr. Paulson and Commissioner Leonard claim that a new stadium will boost the local economy, though the Portland Development Commission recently released a study indicating a new stadium would actually cause a net job loss (courtesy the Portland Mercury).

There are other elements to this story that I will not indulge, including accusations that Adams has fast-tracked this process to paper-over a sex scandal, or that he might soon be facing a recall election (after only 6 months in office!). Regardless, Portland has long been considered a deliberative planning city and Adams championed that sentiment during his campaign, but that hasn’t prevented what can only be described as hasty decision-making. With each failed proposal, city-planners have to scramble to draw new district plans… and all for a fledgling minor-league baseball team. So much for participation. You can imagine how this story goes when cities deal with major sports teams.

Adams has stated that no stadium will be built in Lents without community approval, so stay tuned.

The Portland Mercury determines whether Sam Adams is a mayor or a monster. Check out the blurb on planning and sustainability.

Here is a good breakdown of the Lents proposal from the Oregonian.

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