Portland Beavers and Timbers owner Merritt Paulson hasn't taken long to try a shake-up of the two minor-league teams he bought last spring.
He's been meeting with the commissioner of Major League Soccer about upgrading to that league.
Of course, this would involve money—taxpayers' money and Paulson's money. His idea: The city or state would pay to change PGE Park into a soccer-specific stadium (which would also work for football) and build a new stadium for the Beavers. Paulson would then go after an MLS franchise with his own cash.
But why now? And who's supposed to pay for all this?
Why go after an MLS team?
Paulson says one attraction of buying the Timbers was that "this city is a natural city for MLS…the appetite for soccer here is unbelievable." (The Timbers averaged 6,828 fans per regular-season game in 2007, third-best in their 12-team league.) His pitch is that upgrading PGE Park would bring another major-league team to town, and give Portland State a much-improved football home.
And the Beavers would have to split?
MLS wants its teams to play in soccer-specific venues, and those don't work with baseball teams. The fields are drastically different shapes, plus baseball and soccer present scheduling conflicts with overlapping seasons.
Paulson says MLS can tolerate a few years of the Beavers sharing PGE Park with a soccer team, but that ultimately the league wants a commitment that the Beavers will go and seating will be added in what's now left field.
Where would the Beavers go?
Paulson wants a new stadium of 8,000 to 9,000 seats, with "the right location and a footprint that would work for Major League Baseball." In other words, if we ever shoot for that major league, we'd have the beginnings of a baseball stadium, ready to expand. He wouldn't disclose any locations.
So what's the cost? And who pays?
Paulson says he's still getting official estimates, but thinks PGE Park could be upgraded for about $20 million, and a new baseball stadium would cost about $30 million. He argues the $50 million combined is cheaper than building a new, 20,000-seat soccer stadium, which runs between $100 million and $150 million. This $50 million total, he proposes, would be city or state money. That's seemingly an unlikely prospect given the City Council's lack of interest in major-league sports.
But Paulson says he had "a positive meeting" with city officials such as Mayor Tom Potter, and that all of them were "receptive." And the city's spectator facilities manager, David Logsdon, has said he will seek City Council approval to keep looking into bringing MLS to Portland. There's also the cost of an MLS franchise, which is a one-time $30 million fee. That would be Paulson's money.
We already have pro baseball and soccer; why spend all this money to upgrade?
Paulson emphasizes that this "is an economic opportunity" to join an up-and-coming league in MLS, while getting the Beavers a better venue. And, he adds, "In the grand scheme of things, it's not much money from a city perspective, and [Portland is] a major-league city that deserves the highest level of sports being played."
Why doesn't Paulson just pay for it himself?
Paulson insists that his $30 million commitment "ain't cheap." He adds: "If you're not buying into the benefit that professional sports can have on a city, then you only have to look to Seattle. Look at what [baseball's] Safeco Field and [football's] Qwest Field have done for Seattle. I think there are tremendous economic and cultural impacts that professional sports can have on a city."
Seattle is expected to get the next MLS franchise, to begin play by 2010. The next MLS expansion teams, according to commissioner Don Garber, would begin play in 2011 or 2012.