May 21st, 2009 5:33 pm | by BETH SLOVIC News | Posted In: CLEAN UP, Sports, City Hall

Randy Leonard vs. Lents Neighbors

The cafeteria of Lent Elementary School near the site of Merritt Paulson's proposed baseball stadium was crowded Wednesday night with Lents neighbors who had questions about the proposal and its funding as well as the stadium's possible impact on the Southeast Portland neighborhood.

And, oh man, was it heated.

Commissioner Randy Leonard was one of the first people to speak at the meeting convened by the Lents neighborhood association. "Having a Triple A baseball stadium would be the best thing we could ever have happen in Lents," Leonard told the crowd in his introductory remarks. "If I didn't think that, I wouldn't support bringing the baseball stadium to Lents."

Leonard then said he thought opposition to the deal was coming from "downtown" and from people on the westside. "The more they don't want it, the more I want it," he said.

He then suggested "downtown" was trying to roll Lents. "I hope you all see through that," he told them.

The evening basically went downhill from there. And while several people voiced support for the deal, including the neighborhood association president, most criticized the stadium idea, angering Leonard and other supporters of the idea. "It's going to be real helpful if we respect each other," Leonard told one man who appeared to Leonard to be interrupting him.

"Don't get smart with me," another 71-year-old resident shot back at Leonard moments later. "I don't like it."

Neither did Leonard. "Don't get started with me," Leonard responded.

Geez. Anyway, for anyone closely following the back-and-forth, few new details emerged about the deal, which is still being negotiated. Leonard seemed to indicate, however, that one of the sticking points was the number of parking spaces for the park. An email from Beavers owner Merritt Paulson's representatives from this weekend indicated Paulson wants 780 spaces. Leonard indicated he wanted to see only about 200.

Eventually Leonard said he would not support building the stadium in Lents if the community did not support it. That surprised some Lents residents.

But Leonard later tried to block the gathered group from voting (on the spot) on the question of whether they supported the deal. In response to a question from the 71-year-old man who told Leonard not to "get smart," Leonard said the purpose of the meeting was not to vote on the deal.

"No," Leonard told him. "You asked me a question. I gave you an answer."

Of course, Leonard wasn't running the neighborhood association meeting. So another resident pressed the issue. And finally a member of the neighborhood association asked folks to raise their hands if they supported a new stadium. About 10 people did. When it came time for opponents to raise their hands, the split appeared to be 2 to 1 against the stadium. (Several people had already gone home at the point.)

Before the end of the evening, Multnomah County Commissioner Judy Shiprack, who had Leonard's endorsement when she ran for office in 2008, addressed the Lents crowd to voice her support for the project. (Shiprack's husband Bob is the head of the Oregon State Building and Construction Trades Council.) "We have an opportunity to play in the big leagues of the city of Portland," she said. "Let's all step up to the plate and see what we can do."

Finally, Leonard declined to address the charges made by the Portland Parks and Recreation board last week that converting Walker Stadium in Lents Park into a boutique stadium for a private company to use 72 nights a year represented "a sea change" in policy. "I think their analysis is wrong," Leonard said. "It doesn't strike me as a genuine argument, so it's hard to respond."

Photos by Jarod Opperman
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