Expansion Update: Portland in Trouble?

pgeWe have discusssed Portland’s expansion bid on multiple occassions.  Recently, these stories have focused on the “funding gap” between the money promised by Merritt Paulson, the City of Portland and other sources.  Specifically, there is more than a $28 million hole, even if the City is able to sell more than $35 million in bonds in a tough market (if not, the gap is much larger).  Now citizens in Portland opposed to the deal are speaking out in an effort to kill the deal.  The Oregonian is reporting that a number of local architects are working to preserve Memorial Coliseum by placing it on the National Register of Historic Places.  If that effort is succesful, it would block the two-step required to get the Timbers their own stadium.  Portland’s minor league team is supposed to get a new stadium in place of the Coliseum while the Timbers are supposed to move to PGE Park.

Sensing the shifting winds, Mr. Paulson submitted an op-ed piece to the Oregonian in support of the deal.  In the article, he discusseds the proposed improvements to PGE Park, the importance of the Beavers and Timbers to Portland and the financial benefits of the new construction.  Also important is the connection between the stadiums, the Rose Quarter and downtown Portland.  At the same time, other columnists are taking a different view.

Just a few weeks ago, MLS fans were ecstatic about the prospect of a three team rivalry in the Pacific Northwest.  Now, the Portland deal is facing a number of hurdles that might slow down the process.  These challenges are typical for stadium construction projects nationwide.  Building multi-million dollar public/private projects is difficult and such efforts rightfully face significant amounts of scrutiny.  We will continue to monitor the efforts in Portalnd; it will certainly be a developing story over the next two years.

MLS Portland Heating Up?

portlandLast week, we  posted about Portland’s efforts to land a Major League Soccer Franchise in 2011.  On Tuesday, Merritt Paulson, the owner of the Portland Timbers and driving force behind the Portland bid, took his pitch to the Oregon Legislature.  Paulson is asking the Legislature to revisit a 2003 bill that would use Major League Baseball player salaries to pay for stadium construction (remember when Portland was chasing an MLB franchise?).

Giving the economic climate, Paulson wisely couched his message in terms of jobs creation.  Because his project includes the renovation of PGE Park and the construction of a new home for his minor league baseball team, Paulson can pitch his project as a two-for-one.

Action is also taking place on the city level, because Paulson is seeking funding on all fronts.  In a remarkable display of chutzpah, Paulson took his argument directly to the people, through a commentary piece in the Oregonian.  In his article, Paulson states that he is seeking $35-38 million from the City to improve PGE Park, and trumpets his willingness to pony up the $40 million franchise fee.  Of Course, it is only a few paragraphs later when he notes the need to build a new home for his baseball team.

As I have stated before, I think Portland would be a great venue for MLS.  With limited competition for sports dollars and media coverage, and a strong repuation as a hotbed for soccer, Portland seems like perfect destination for the League.  The deadline for City action is March 15.  Footiebusiness.com will keep tracking all of the expansion bids.  We of course welcome your comments on the viability of this bid as well.  mls

MLS Expansion: Portland?

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As part of an occasional series of posts on MLS expansion contenders, I thought it worth taking a look at Portland’s efforts to join the League in 2011.  The bid centers on a proposal to upgrade PGE Park, the home of a minor league baseball team and the Portland Timbers of the USL.  According to the folks at mlsportland.com, a $40 million upgrade will take PGE to MLS standards.

Interestingly, the driving force behind the Portland bid is Merritt Paulson, son of the former Secretary of the Treasury.  Paulson is seeking $85 million in public money to support the bid, renovate the stadium and construct infrastructure.  Given the economic climate, and his father’s prominent role in the bailout, there is no small irony in Paulson’s leading the charge for a raft of public money.

Soccer has been successful in the City of Roses at the USL level and as a “one sport town” Portland is an attractive market.  This is especially so, when that one sport is the NBA (with only a small amount of schedule overlap).  Using Columbus as a model, there is good reason to believe that a Portland franchise backed by big money and a solid stadium, can succeed.

The bid was recently rocked by scandal, when Portland mayor Sam Adams, a strong proponent of the bid, admitted to an inappropriate relationship with a teenage female.  With franchise announcements expected in about a month, it will be interesting to see whether the Mayor’s problems will drag down Paulson’s efforts.  Portland has long been a soccer hotbed, and with Seattle entering the League in 2009, there is great potential for a natural rivalry.

I think Portland is a great fit.  I’ve long believed that medium markets like Columbus, Salt Lake City and San Jose are perfect locations for MLS franchises. Yes you need the big cities, but in New York and Boston, MLS is barely a blip on the sports landscape.  In smaller cities, the teams are a focus of local medial and a source of community pride.

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