March 11th, 2009 5:33 pm | by BETH SLOVIC News | Posted In: CLEAN UP, Politics, Sports, City Hall

MLS Update: Highlights from Wednesday's Soccer Debate

Randy Leonard - Raw CGW

Earlier today, City Council voted 3-2 in favor of moving forward with Merritt Paulson on a deal to bring a Major League Soccer expansion team to Portland.

Now what? Well, consider this:

• In a surprise move, the proposal that Mayor Sam Adams and Commissioners Randy Leonard and Dan Saltzman approved doesn't include an immediate commitment to seek $15 million from a new urban renewal district. That leaves what Adams called a "hole" in the financing scheme going forward. This is the only difference between Wednesday's Council-approved agreement and the draft agreement [PDF] released yesterday. Adams approved this change in the "spirit of compromise." Leonard was grumpier, agreeing to the change while also vowing to "live to fight another day."

After the final vote, Timbers Army fans erupted in cheers. (There were no jazz hands from this crowd.) Then reporters swarmed around Paulson to ask him for his thoughts on the council's decision to withhold $15 million in urban renewal dollars.

Paulson described himself as neither happy nor upset but "somewhere in the middle." He echoed Adams' lament about the funding hole but said he would not use his own money to plug that new hole. "I challenge people to find a better deal out there for the city," he said. Now it's up to him and his two biggest supporters, Adams and Leonard, to figure out what to do about that hole.

• Multnomah County Chairman Ted Wheeler should probably watch his back. After engaging in a spirited fight with Leonard on the possible effects of the deal on the county's already anemic budget, Wheeler told Leonard: "I'm new on the job, but I wasn't born yesterday."

Wheeler's point was that the city's partners, like the county and the local school districts, had unanswered questions about the costs and benefits of the proposal.

Leonard's point was that urban renewal districts have benefits Wheeler wasn't considering, in Leonard's mind anyway.

The sparring appeared to stay with Leonard long after Wheeler left City Hall. Leonard continued to say he expected other local leaders "to know better" than to ignore the benefits of urban renewal districts. His biggest threat against Wheeler? It was a little vague. But, apparently, Leonard has experienced a "radical re-alignment" of his views on helping the county during its time of need. Presumably he was talking about the Sellwood Bridge.

• There were hints of "mission creep" in today's discussion of the possible (but currently doomed) urban renewal district. Adams mentioned "Lincoln High School" at least once but I think twice and seemed to indicate the city could help with Lincoln's possible redevelopment. Meantime, Portland Public Schools is engaging in its own process to reform all 10 of its high schools, not just Lincoln.

• Commissioners Amanda Fritz and Nick Fish voted against the entire proposal, though both leaders claimed to be the world's biggest soccer fans. (As a sidenote: I'm afraid Fritz outdid Fish on that front. She brought three soccer scarves to the meeting to demonstrate her enthusiasm. Fish? Nothing in the way of neckwear.) Anyway, both commissioners questioned the timing of the deal given that commissioners are meeting all this week to discuss budget cuts at the city. After the vote, Fish released a statement. "We are in the midst of the worst economy in recent history - this means job losses, tough program cuts, and drastic impacts on our homeless, youth and elderly. My vote today in Council was not about the merits of a stadium deal, but about protecting our dwindling public resources. The case simply hasn't been made to me that there is sufficient economic benefit in this deal. In this tough economy, we need a major league commitment to parks, affordable housing, jobs and education."

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