March 10th, 2009 | by JAMES PITKIN News | Posted In: Politics, City Hall, Multnomah County

Ted Wheeler to Testify Against MLS Proposal

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Multnomah County Chair Ted Wheeler is set to testify at tomorrow's City Council meeting on the proposal to bring Major League Soccer to Portland.

And with three of the five city commissioners still saying they're undecided, it's clear Wheeler's not siding with Mayor Sam Adams and Commissioner Randy Leonard in favor of the deal.

Instead, Wheeler tells WW he'll testify that the proposal to renovate PGE Park and build a new stadium at Memorial Coliseum would be a poor use of "tax-increment financing," or urban renewal. The scheme would siphon off future property-tax dollars, some of which otherwise would go to pay for schools and county social services.

"I think it's an inappropriate use of tax-increment financing, in that PGE Park is not subject to urban blight," Wheeler says. "I'm not saying a ballpark is a bad idea. (But) I'm not sure the trade-off is a good one."

Wheeler says the citizen task force that approved the proposal never considered its impact on schools and the county. Now he's concerned the City Council is rushing into approving a deal that comes with no specifics on what a new urban-renewal district would look like — either how big it would be, or how far into debt it would go.

"That's a dangerous business, voting on a concept to create something (without knowing the details)," Wheeler says. "My concern is this: They're obviously fast-tracking the vote on this soccer and baseball deal. And as best as I can tell, the task force was charged with a priority of not impacting the city's general fund. But there is no such commitment to the county or the school districts."

Wheeler says he met with Adams at noon today, and among other issues, they discussed the MLS deal after Wheeler brought up the topic. Wheeler says Adams didn't try to sway his opinion or offer any deals — such as helping fund repairs to the Sellwood Bridge in return for Wheeler's support on MLS.

"I think [Mayor] Adams would be very interested in having our support around urban renewal issues generally. [Mayor] Adams is the kind of leader who likes to package transactions," Wheeler says. "He has offered me a broad package of issues that include urban renewal, (but) he has never asked me for a specific quid-pro-quo, nor would I accept one for MLS."
 
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