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April 8th, 2009 BETH SLOVIC | News Stories
 

Goal Rush

Rose Quarter business leaders ask, what’s the hurry for baseball and soccer?

     
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IMAGE: Jonathan Hill

A key vote on Portland’s deal with Merritt Paulson to bring Major League Soccer to PGE Park and build a new stadium for his minor-league baseball team somewhere in the Rose Quarter has been delayed a week.

But the new April 22 deadline to approve an exact location for the baseball stadium remains too soon for many business leaders around the Rose Quarter. They consider the Rose Quarter a “linchpin” of economic development, since it connects the city’s east and west ends, and they’re worried Mayor Sam Adams and Commissioner Randy Leonard are letting Paulson’s accelerated timeline trump the city’s needs.

“This seems incredibly fast,” says Rick Williams, executive director of the Lloyd District Transportation Management Association, a group representing businesses around the Rose Quarter that have worked to turn the area into a year-round destination rather than a seasonal sports venue. “I’m concerned the stadium is driving the big picture, and the big picture is not driving the stadium. That’s a huge risk.”

On Monday and Tuesday, about 30 people—at the mayor’s behest—met to design different options for the Rose Quarter in a sped-up process meant to produce a single, preferred option by April 14, a deadline that suits Paulson’s short-term construction plans but not necessarily the city’s long-term Rose Quarter redevelopment strategy. Adams on Tuesday announced preliminary results of that process, which call for tearing down Memorial Coliseum. That would accommodate both a baseball stadium and the Trail Blazers’ proposal to build an “entertainment district” including bars and restaurants. Adams concedes the process was compressed.

“We don’t lack plans,” Adams says. “We lack action.”

Others say not so fast.

“We should take a deep breath and do what’s right long-term for the Rose Quarter,” says Doug Obletz, a developer with Shiels Obletz Johnsen and a longtime advocate of turning the area into more than just a spectator sports hub.

Commissioner Nick Fish also has called for a “time out” on the Rose Quarter baseball deal. “I would love for this not to be decided with a gun to our head,” Fish says.

From that perspective, the problem is that MLS backers have linked their goal of getting a team to the idea that Paulson’s baseball team, the Beavers, must have a separate stadium.

City Council bought into that assumption when it voted 3-2 last month for an $88.8 million deal to help fund a soccer-specific stadium at PGE Park and build a new home for Paulson’s Beavers at the Rose Quarter.

On April 22, city commissioners are expected to sign off on a “pre-development” agreement with Paulson, further cementing this assumption.

That agreement will formalize the city’s payment of half the planning costs for Paulson’s two new stadiums, if the project is killed for some reason before Sept. 1. If that were to happen, the city would be on the hook for $2.5 million.

In 2002, there was also a plan to demolish the Coliseum, which was built in 1960 as a war memorial to veterans but has gotten little regular use since the Blazers moved to the Rose Garden in 1995.

Richard Johnston, a 78-year-old Korean War veteran, opposed those plans and hates the current ones, too. The $8 million bond issue that built the Coliseum was the first thing Johnston voted for, he says, when he returned from overseas in 1954. “It stinks,” he says. “I’m not buying it.”


FACT: The Planning Bureau is holding an open house April 14 on the proposed Rose Quarter design. Details were unavailable at press time but will be posted on wweek.com as they become available.
 
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