Thursday, February 5, 2009

A political soccer ball

If you build it. . .

I have a great old car, nearly a classic. At one time, it was a shabby rustbucket, but a few years ago I spent some money on it—new paint job, transmission, audio system—and made it into a real head turner. The problem is, these days, I really want a boat. So I’m thinking of converting this vintage automobile into a motorboat. Yeah, a project like this will take some money, and I’m still paying off the credit cards on the paint job, but I really want a boat.

Naturally, once I change my car into a boat, I will need a new car.

And you are thinking, “This guy’s elevator is stuck between floors.”

You’re pointing out it would be cheaper and better to leave the car alone and buy a boat. But that’s not the Portland way.

For example, here’s Randy Leonard, the City Commissioner who boasts that he represents the little guys on the east side of town. He wants to bring major league soccer to Portland. He wants to make sure his friend Merritt Paulson (son of Hank) gets a stadium that will pack in the crowds of soccer fans. Paulson owns the Portland Beavers minor league baseball team and is vowing to put up $40 million to secure a major league soccer franchise.

Both Paulson and Leonard (and most of the rest of the city council) propose to convert PGE Park (formerly Civic Stadium) into a soccer stadium and then build another venue for minor league baseball somewhere else. This will cost at least $75 million ($45 million for the renovations and $30 million for the new park). These projects will be financed by bonds to be repaid by taxes on the ticket sales.

Never mind the merits of the financing scheme (such as whether the ticket tax revenue will pencil out in the next millennium.) Never mind that major league soccer hasn’t been a big draw in most other cities.

Doesn’t transmuting a baseball park into a soccer field seem like changing a car into a boat? Why not leave PGE Park alone (we still owe $28 million on the last facelift) and build a soccer stadium somewhere else?

Here’s the irony. Leonard wants to build the baseball park in Lents—right at Southeast 92nd and Holgate. Go over there on a weekend, or a nice spring evening, and you’ll see all sorts of people playing guess what? Yup, soccer.

Lents is the crossroads of immigrant life in Portland. There are Latinos to the east and south, Russians and other Slavs to the west along Foster, and Asians to the north along 82nd. These immigrant and second-generation folks are into soccer big time. If a major league soccer stadium is to be built using public money, it should be situated where the biggest soccer public lives.

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