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Friday, June 19, 2009

BREAKING: Paulson Withdraws Lents Baseball Proposal Citing "Lack Of Community Support..."

Posted by Matt Davis on Fri, Jun 19, 2009 at 12:07 PM

The mayor's staffer Amy Ruiz just called to confirm that Merritt Paulson withdrew his proposal for a Lents baseball stadium at 1110:58, citing lack of community support. Mercury reporter Sarah Mirk, who's been doing a great job reporting all the angles on this story, is running down to city hall right now for more.

We'll have updates very shortly.

Update 1, 12:21pm:

"This is the happiest day of my life in a long time," says Nick Christensen from Friends of Lents Park. "We're really really surprised and pleasantly so, that this proposal is dead."

"We're disappointed that they decided not to look at other sites in Lents that didn't involve public park space, or that other plans that didn't involve significant portions of urban renewal money, but we're just pleased that this iteration of the plan is gone."

Christensen heard about Paulson's withdrawal from a radio station 15 minutes ago (KXL, he says) and says he was "speechless."

"I didn't think it was going to turn around this quickly," he says. "But after last night's showing of more than 250 Lents residents, it was pretty clear that there wasn't much community support for this."

"It seems like a lot of the people in favor of this really passionately believed that this is what Lents needed," he continues. "But it seems like the idea was based on a 1996 master plan for a Lents that was very very different from what it is today."

Christensen says he "felt bad for Commissioner Leonard last night." He sent him an email saying so.

"It must have been hard for him to hear the boos and cat calls from some of the members of the crowd last night in a neighborhood that he really loves," Christensen adds. "And we hope he will continue to be a good partner for Lents in the future."

"The support that we received from Portland as a whole, thanks to the coverage of this issue online, in print and on TV, I think, really helped us get the word out to people who might not otherwise have even known where Lents is."

Update 2, 12:24pm: The Oregonian had Paulson's letter to Lents neighbors at 11:40am.

While the city council has voted to support bringing MLS to Portland at PGE Park, securing a location and funding plan for a new Triple-A stadium in Portland has been difficult. The Portland Beavers are a Portland tradition - with more than 100 years of history in this community. The recent challenges notwithstanding, Beavers baseball enjoys a strong following in this community, and in no way does the lack of public consensus about a new stadium for the Beavers reflect a lack of fan, sponsor and public support for Triple-A baseball.

Now, with the September 1 deadline to secure a funding plan to ready PGE Park for Major League Soccer fast approaching, it is critical that we reach an agreement to fund PGE Park improvements or risk losing the unique opportunity to bring MLS to Portland altogether. For this reason, and a lack of community support for a new Triple-A stadium in Lents, I am withdrawing our proposal for a Lents baseball stadium. I am grateful for the time and serious consideration the neighborhood leaders, city staff, elected officials and Lents residents have given this proposal the past few months, but it is now clear that the community-at-large has not embraced this idea.


"I am committed to doing everything possible to keep in the Beavers in Portland or the Portland area," Paulson continues. "Change is never easy, particularly during challenging times."

Update 3, 12:35: A call to Paulson for follow-up comment is yet to be returned. Merritt, it's 503 294 0840. I'm holding my breath! And in the mean time, if someone wants to call up pretending to be Merritt Paulson, I'll totally play along and quote you, regardless.

(That was a joke).

Update 4, 12:51:

Sarah Mirk calls from city hall: The first the mayor's office had heard about Paulson pulling out was when he sent that email at 10:58.

"My impression is that a neighborhood vote would not have been supportive," says Adams, who adds that the city will not work to find the Beavers a new home in Portland, but that if Paulson can, it will be "good for the city."

Though it's possible that the very open public process may have killed the deal, Adams says: "I still think it's the right thing to do. There's a time and a place to work at a deal round a table, and a time and a place to vet a deal publicly."

Adams says the city will now have to go back to the negotiating table for Major League Soccer money, re-negotiating the time line and re-negotiating a financing plan, because, "this is no longer a two stadium deal."

Adams says the mayor's office will now have to figure out where all the city commissioners stand on Major League Soccer without the Lents baseball project involved. Nevertheless, Adams says he's "confident" about the MLS deal continuing.

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