Randy Leonard and Merritt Paulson were hoping to present a done deal tonight to Lents neighbors who hold the purse strings for new Beavers AAA stadium funding. But instead, after grueling negotiations, Leonard and Paulson turned up at tonight's Lents Town Center Urban Renewal Area Committee to make a tentative pitch that, despite two hours of Q&A with neighbors, still has some unanswered questions. An Oregonian article this morning wondered how much Leonard would ask Lents to pitch in to the Beavers deal - tonight he announced that for the deal to work, Lents will have to put $42 million toward the stadium in 2010 and 2011. Paulson will shoulder an unspecified chunk of the remaining 20 percent of the stadium cost.
Once they found out the pricetag, the Lents Urban Renewal Committee (URAC) and the 40 neighbors who turned out to the meeting had some incisive questions. The big issues are: what projects will Lents lose if it throws nearly all its urban renewal money into the stadium and will it be worth it?
"It's a big number, it's a scary number," acknowledged Lents URAC chair Cora Potter as she opened up the floor for questions. The first issue neighbors raised was whether the stadium would actually catalyze economic development in the neighborhood.
"We need to think about the economics," responded Leonard. "But I think it benefits the city in more than just economic ways. As I have been telling people, if you build it, they will come." The councilor predicts that anywhere between 4,000 to 6,000 people would travel to Lents to catch each Beavers game. "Some of what I'm going to tell you now, I don't know how to quantify," said Leonard. "Some of the benefit is psychological. What's it going to mean to kids to be able to say they live in the neighborhood that's the home of the Portland Beavers?"
Whether stadiums actually revitalize neighborhoods depends on who you ask — studies turn up varied results. While Leonard and Paulson put significant weight on the economic success San Diego saw from its downtown major league stadium, Lents resident Kristina Lake piped up in the audience to point out a Brookings Institute report that found stadiums are not always worth the cost. "I don't think we should go on intuition, I think we should go on facts," Lake challenged. "You do not need a ballpark to revitalize, you need the projects this will cut."
The city has not yet done a study on the impact of the stadium on Lents economy. But the PDC's draft budget for the next 10 years of the Lents urban renewal area (URA) concludes that "the stadium financing would consume enough financial capacity (maximum indebtedness) that potential projects beyond the five year forecast would be reduced, which could hinder the URAC's ability to accomplish the goals established in the 1998 URA plan."
The "stadium scenario" budget for Lents includes a lot of zeros: in order to fund the $20-22 million each year for the stadium, Lents would have to reduce its current $8.7 million affordable budget housing to $0 and its business development budget to $0 as well.
"How can you say you're investing in anything when you're actually asking us to postpone $42 million in development here in Lents?" asked Powellhurst-Gilbert resident John Mulvey. "If you're really doing a favor for Lents, where's the new investment?"
Sia Sellu, who lives in the neighborhood and works on rehousing seniors for the NW Pilot Project, spoke up to defend the existing budget for affordable housing in Lents. "The seniors who are having to move out of their homes who thought they would be living in this neighborhood forever - I think it's really not okay to not to talk about the impact on those people."
Leonard responded that there would be no net loss of affordable housing citywide — the council could bend the rules of urban renewal (which mandates 30 percent of funds are spent on affordable housing) to make other districts build Lents' share of affordable housing. Leonard added that market rate housing in Lents is affordable and money should be spent instead on a big stimulus project, a view shared by URAC chair Cora Potter. This is the second time in one month that a city councilor has asked a neighborhood urban renewal group to put its funds toward helping the overall Major League Soccer deal. On April 20th, Mayor Adams asked Interstate to consider giving money to the Rose Quarter makeover.
All the details of the deal are still being hammered out, so the Lents URAC did not decide anything for sure tonight. But for all the "intuition" behind the plan, the deal has momentum both at the city and in the neighborhood: when the Lents Neighborhood Association performed a "full mail penetration" survey (their words, not mine) in Decemeber, the 1,000 respondents favored the idea of a stadium in their area 2:1.