Saturday, May 14, 2011

Baseball Team or Another White Elephant? If We Don’t Ask, We Don’t Know

For several years many Vancouverites have longed for a pro-baseball team to be located in Vancouver and it looks now as if their cries might be answered. Mayor of Portland’s Vancouver, Tim ‘no show’ Leavitt has announced the likelihood of the Yakima Bears relocating to our community after several years in Yakima.

Many are elated and ready to jump headlong into the project while strongly objecting to others who raise questions about the move, especially where a portion of the project will require the use of tax dollars. We hear comments like “I am not quite sure why every aspect of this project needs to be so thoroughly parsed and vetted” from many of the same people who strongly object if a company like Wal-Mart announces plans to build a store with all private funds.

The Yakima Bears is a Class ‘A’ team affiliated with the Arizona Diamondbacks and has been playing out of Yakima for 21 years. Financially, they have been losing money for at least the last 9 years, a loss the team owners claim is due to an undersized stadium resulting in “to low in-stadium spending” according to Team Owners.

While game attendance is said to have been increasing, the Yakima Herald reports that game attendance averages less that 1,800 per game, about half of that of other Class ‘A’ Teams.

The Portland Beavers left due to their attendance averaging less than 1,900 per game.

For over a year, both Yakima and Union Gap have struggled to find a way to finance a new stadium for the Team, estimated to cost about the same as what they would want in Vancouver, $23 Million. Financing would have come from multiple sources as is proposed in relocating to Vancouver. A study conducted in Yakima and also reported in the Yakima Herald states, “Other public sports facilities in Washington, the study said, received about 32 percent funding from the private sector and the rest from other sources, such as state, county and city grants, loans or taxes.”

They report that the Team has been reluctant to ask voters for a tax increase. The Columbian tells us, “Financing of the $23 million project would come from the team through investments and guarantees and corporate partners through naming rights and luxury boxes.”
“The one public financing component? Clark County commissioners will be asked to approve an entertainment admissions fee, which would add 5 percent to the cost of tickets to local entertainment events, including movies and the baseball games.”

The percentage of that “one public financing component” has not been determined as of yet.

Proposed Vancouver Site
Proposed Yakima Site
Of some concern too is the location of the planned stadium which will be 600 seats more than was proposed in Yakima and looks like on a smaller parcel of land. Land now owned by Clark College and bordering the Vancouver Veterans Hospital to the immediate north. Parking apparently will be an issue as promoters have asked for the public to park in Clark College Parking when games would be held.

A question submitted just last evening to Ron Arp about any consideration of adverse effects to the VA Hospital was sent too late for this posting, but I anticipate an answer after the weekend.

I assume too that the stadium considered for Vancouver would be similar or the same as what was being considered for Yakima, seen below.

Illustration courtesy of the Yakima Herald

Illustration Courtesy of the Yakima Herald
Very nice looking stadium I’d say. Part of the sell on this project is that it would be multi-use, meaning community events would be held there to include concerts, High School Games and what have you. But, wasn’t that the same sell we were given when it came to the Sleep Country Amphitheater and the Convention Center at the Hilton downtown? Neither project has delivered as of yet and remain funded in part by taxpayers that are still struggling in the economic nightmare we see ourselves in.

I do not object to a professional ball team being in Vancouver nor do I object to a stadium being built to house them. I am concerned, however, that taxpayers could once again be stuck with a white elephant if estimates do not play out.

We should not jump headlong into this before “every aspect of this project is thoroughly parsed and vetted.” There needs to be some assurances made that this will not end up costing taxpayers more than they benefit.

I see no reason the Team Owners would be unwilling to cooperate with the community by answering all concerns and giving those assurances. A Question & Answer sheet provided by the team seems scant on some of the concerns of citizens, being comprised of questions Team Owners supply and answers. I would prefer seeing the Q&A of actual citizen and elected officials concerns.

Whether or not Portland citizens would flock to Vancouver for the games will not be known until after the stadium is constructed and games begin. I have no reason to believe they won’t, but see nothing indicating they will either. I have not seen any marketing surveys for the region as to whether or not they will come, should we build it.

The project is worthy of serious consideration and could be a boon for the community. It also could be another white elephant sucking more tax dollars than we like.

With the desire of construction of the stadium beginning in less than 2 months, we aren’t being given much time to weight the benefits of this move. That makes it even more urgent that we ask these questions, voice our concerns and then communicate to city and county officials our views, not that they have a history of listening when they see a chance to stick taxpayers with the bill if a pet project of theirs.

For those with their blinders on who inevitably will come in telling me I’m a naysayer, always blocking progress, live in the past or what have you, think again. I am not condemning the project; just trying to raise legitimate concerns that need looked at and must be considered, given the rapid pace of the planned project and the unknown elements of it.

Let’s be cautious this time before we end up once again left holding the bag.

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