Mayor Adams and Commissioner Leonard have said they will follow the lead of Lents neighbors on whether to use $42 million in urban renewal funds to build a new Beavers Triple-A stadium in the downtrodden Southeast neighborhood. Based on neighborhood venting last night, the neighborhood's vote will be a very close call.
About 150 people sat on lawn chairs and blankets at the first meet-up to oppose the stadium. Reclining in the warm evening on grass around the Lents Park gazebo, the event looked more like a family recital than an opposition rally. But when "Friends of Lents Park" organizers invited anyone onto Park's cement stage, handing them a microphone and a two minute time limit - oh, the rhetoric was passionate.
"The track, the soccer field, trees - those are all things that will be lost, probably if the stadium comes here," said Urban Renewal Advisory Committee (URAC) member John Mulvey. "The cash cow that's making the whole thing go, the whole deal, is your urban renewal dollars." Six of the 15 people on the URAC are on record with the Mercury against the current deal and several others are undecided. If those six people plus two of undecideds wind up voting against the deal, the mayor's office says it will give up trying to find a new home for the Beavers in Portland.
Friends of Lents Park organizer Kris Lake was clear about the picnic-protest's intentions. "I'm hoping to convince the URAC and the city commissioners that we need to look for a different place for the Beavers," she says. I asked Lake to respond to comments I'd received from a URAC member who was afraid to come out in support of the stadium because, "As soon as your name gets out there that you support it, there's a very vocal group that hounds you." Lake feels just the opposite — for a long time, pro-stadium neighborhood leaders had shut down dissent, she says.
Thirty eight neighbors took the stage to rant about the deal, many reiterating an "anti-change-keep-the-park-how-it-is!" message to loud applause. Early on, a man with a large tattoo of the statue of Liberty on his leg spoke up in favor of the new stadium - he handled a heckler and received a smattering of claps at the end of his allotted two minutes. "I'm not excited about the bill they're gonna hand us, but if we can put something here, maybe it will help clean up the problems we've already got," said the man, Erik Benson.
The only politician who spoke on stage was the influential and ubiquitous Steve Novick, who encouraged neighbors to call Dan Saltzman immediately with their concerns. "Dan Saltzman is the key vote. If you have time tonight, pick up the phone and call 823-4157 and say, 'Dan Saltzman, please vote against this proposition.'"
"I know that Randy's heart is in the right place, but every study and experience shows that a ballpark alone does not revitalize the neighborhood," said Novick offstage. When I pointed out that the mayor and Leonard's office have recently pitched the stadium as a project to improve Lents' amenities - not a cut and dry quantifiable economic boost, Novick responded. "I think it's taking away $40 million that could be used for amenities and using it for a ballpark."