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Thursday, July 23, 2009

Council Votes Yes On Big Soccer At PGE

Posted by Matt Davis on Thu, Jul 23, 2009 at 6:05 PM

Council made a 4-1 "yes" vote to renovate PGE park for Major League Soccer this afternoon, following an agreement by Timbers owner Merritt Paulson to stump up the majority of the cash. Paulson will contribute $54million to the deal overall, including the $35million purchase of the Major League Soccer franchise. The city will contribute just over $11million from its spectator facilities fund. If the renovation costs overrun, the city's extra contribution is capped at $1million. The stadium will meet LEED silver environmental standards.

"There will be those who don't like this deal no matter what it says," said City Commissioner Randy Leonard. "But if you're one of those who wanted the deal to protect taxpayers, if you wanted it to provide construction jobs, if you wanted it to provide a guarantee to the city, if you wanted for the workers at PGE park to receive a living wage, and if you wanted Merritt Paulson to make other investments in soccer around Portland, if you wanted it to bring a new major league sport to Portland, then this is the deal for you."

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BIG MONEY FOR BIG SOCCER: ILLUSTRATION BY DAVE NEESON...

"This is a deal unlike any deal in any other city in Portland," said Leonard.

Nevertheless City Commissioner Amanda Fritz gave the deal some serious scrutiny this afternoon.

"What if MLS goes bust?" asked Fritz.

"The good news is that if MLS folds and we receive no additional revenues from them, they'll be required to be paid to us from a guarantee from the Paulson family," said the city's finance boss, Ken Rust. Paulson will also contribute $50,000 a year to build athletic fields in Portland.

"So tell me again, why are we going for a no-bid, sole-source contract?" asked Fritz, about the renovations.

"Well, this is a public private partnership," said Mayor Sam Adams—citing Paulson's contribution of money to the deal.

"I can't fathom why the city would pay top-up wages for the employees at PGE Park," said Fritz. "Is my math correct in that it's about $5million over the course of the agreement?" Rust had no answer to the $5million (over 25 years), but said it would cost $125,000 a year to begin with. Leonard said that number was "inaccurate," but Fritz offered to show him her calculations. Fritz tried to amend the agreement so that Peregrine would be on the hook for all this money—which means Paulson will pay employees a living wage of $11.26 an hour. But council voted down Fritz's amendment—"this is not the proper place to make a substitution amendment like this," said Leonard.

Fritz also asked whether plans to develop a parking garage around PGE park had been part of the "community conversation" around the redevelopment. "That's purely aspirational language," responded Leonard's chief of staff, Ty Kovatch, after Fritz directed him to that language, on page 7 of the deal. Goose Hollow neighbors showed up to say they were concerned about it, and Mayor Sam Adams amended the deal to say the city would work with the neighbors on this point.

Fritz also had concerns about adding two new urinals to the men's restrooms, under the renovations. She said she'd heard MLS was about gender parity. Former mayor Vera Katz laughed at Fritz's question, in the audience—she's been working as a consultant for Paulson on the deal. Timbers fans scoffed in the council chamber. A Peregrine spokesman (Peregrine is Paulson's development firm) said he couldn't answer it, just yet, but Mayor Adams and Commissioner Leonard said they'd do their best to make sure that the restrooms had gender parity.

Oddest moment of all was a rendition of "God Bless The USA," sponsored by a Memorial Coliseum supporter named Gil Fry. Fry said he thought more acts like these were needed to fill the Coliseum, and that the city should be using its spectator facilities fund for the Coliseum, not to renovate PGE.

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GOD BLESS THE USA: CATEGORICALLY THE WEIRDEST COUNCIL TESTIMONY I'VE EVER SEEN...

"It's been a long, interesting road to say the least since we started earlier this year," said City Commissioner Dan Saltzman. "I'm pleased to see there is no urban renewal money involved."

"The mayor sets the tone for these negotiations," said Leonard, crediting Mayor Sam Adams for his leadership of the effort. He also credited his chief of staff, Kovtach for his "genius work" on the deal. Leonard also said Katz is "still the only person in the world I'm actually afraid of." "This is a person that with every fiber of my being I should not like," said Leonard, talking about Merritt Paulson. "I try hard to figure out why it is that I like this guy so much, but I think it has something to do with his complete inability to do anything other than tell the truth. I just believe that Merritt is an asset to this city, and anybody who says anything other than that is really being unfair to Merritt."

"On the surface there's much to like about the current agreement," said Fritz. "For me the proposal just doesn't pencil out." She said she doesn't like the use of zero-coupon bonds to finance the deal. "I cannot support borrowing money at high rates of interest to pay for a sports stadium." "In a worse case scenario the Blazers could walk away from Portland in 2025, leaving a $27million debt with no way to pay for it." "As a city we talk a lot about sustainability, but we need to talk, too, about financial sustainability," she said.

"The deal is certainly better than previous proposals, but it's certainly not a good deal to taxpayers," Fritz said. "I believe details matter and in this case the details to me suggest that the deal is still fiscally unwise." "I hope I'm wrong."

Here's Katz's reaction, and former PDC chair Don Mazziotti's (also a Peregrine consultant), to Fritz's speech:
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MAZZIOTI AND KATZ: JUST IN LOVE WITH AMANDA FRITZ, YOU CAN TELL...

"This process has included yelling, it has included rooms full of anger, it has included storming out, and that is just around the negotiating table," said Mayor Sam Adams. "This is the end of the beginning, but now we can get going."

There was a round of applause following the vote. "You campaigned and lost," said Timbers fan Jeremy Wright, walking past this reporter on his way out. A gracious victory, indeed.

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