Say hello to Portland's other recall campaign. Smoking a cigarette last night on the bench in the small brick plaza of Lents Town Center, Lents Neighborhood Association member Jeffrey Rose held a recall petition with two signatures on it. "I pride myself on my diplomacy, but I've just had it," says Rose. "It's been a real up and down roller coaster ride with him." Rose isn't talking about Mayor Adams — his recall campaign is directed at pro-stadium Lents Neighborhood Association chair Damien Chakwin, whose gruff demeanor Rose says has driven people away from involvement in neighborhood discussions over whether to use $42.3 million in urban renewal funds to build the new Beavers Triple-A ballpark in Lents.
Across the street from where Rose sat on the bench, City Commissioner Randy Leonard ate dinner with Urban Renewal Advisory Committee Chair Cora Potter and anti-stadium politico Steve Novick at miniscule Mexican restaurant El Pato Feliz ("The Happy Duck"). As Rose smoked his cigarette, a handful of neighbors collected in the plaza, all stopping to discuss the stadium and muse on what conversation could be going on over tacos at The Happy Duck. Staunchly anti-stadium Urban Renewal Advisory Committee member John Mulvey rolled up on a blue Schwinn, planning to grab some dinner from El Pato. The Mexican restaurant is apparently the place to be in Lents - it's the only place to get food around the downtrodden town center that is not a bar or a gas station.
"Oh look, they're leaving," someone said, pointing across the street at Novick, Potter and Leonard as they exited the restaurant. The trio took a stroll around the block, checking out the two vacant storefronts next to El Pato. Now that the taqueria was clear, Rose and I headed over to take some pictures and get some tacos. Soon, though, the group wandered back and stopped to talk to Rose as he leaned against the sign emblazoned with an excited yellow duck.
"Get a taco and I'll talk to you," said Leonard to me. "Buy a taco - this is about economic development." Tacos at El Pato are only $1 and also delicious — not a bad price to pay for a conversation with Leonard. I ducked inside, bought two and headed back out again to ask what the three had talked about during the
meeting social dinner.
"Chimichangas," said Leonard. "I learned a lot about chimichangas." It took a while for the conversation to come around from chimichangas to the $49 million baseball stadium, but eventually Leonard opined on what would happen in Lents if they build the ballpark — more Portlanders would discover El Pato and the Town Center's sociable brick plaza. "People will start coming back even when there's not a game. That's the simple formula for why a ballpark works. It draws people here and they'll see the difference between the reality and the perception."
"But when would they ever see this?" asked Novick, pointing out that the most convenient way to drive to the ballpark doesn't run through Lents Town Center. "What I'm afraid would happen is people would just park at the ballpark, eat a hot dog and not ever come down here at all."
A study completed this week at the request of City Council swing vote Dan Saltzman backs up Novick's concerns. "Most of the post and pre-game activity would most likely occur on site rather than in the surrounding neighborhood thereby increasing the potential for food and beverage revenue within the stadium," the report concludes.
The study by HVS International (pdf) also shows that the attendance for the Lents Triple-A park (projected at 3,222 ticket buyers per game) will likely be half the average attendance of the nation's other Triple-A parks. Because of low attendance, the study concludes that revenues for the stadium would decline 13 percent for the first five years.
More taco talk from Randy Leonard plus more on the recall campaign - below the cut.
Saltzman's chief of staff Brendan Finn says he's not sure whether the study will sway Saltzman against the stadium - the commissioner is going to "take the study home with him over the weekend" and give it a good read-through.
In response to the argument that stadium-goers will only spend their money in the stadium, Leonard says that Lents Town Center can attract stadium-goers with good marketing.
"So why not spend $20 million on an advertising campaign, 'Come to Lents!'" asked Novick.
"Because there's no reason to come to Lents for the first time," replied Leonard. The stadium, he says, would draw new people in and eventually there would be more than one decent restaurant in the town center.
Leonard and Mayor Adams agree that they will follow the lead of the 15-member Lents Urban Renewal Advisory Committee on whether to appropriate the $42.3 million for the ballpark. The power of the neighbors to decide the future of their area and the high cost of the stadium has created a lot of tension in Lents over the past few months.
But, says Rose, part of the reason the stadium has been such a divisive issue is because of the poor leadership of neighborhood association chair Chakwin.
"My ideal leader is someone who can bring people together and at least encourage people to talk," explains Rose, who is still undecided on the stadium deal. He says Chakwin failed to do early outreach to neighbors living around the park, getting their opinion about the project. Several neighbors on the popular Lents discussion website Rose started several years ago, ilovelents.com, allege that Chakwin has intentionally delayed the Lents Neighborhood Association taking any vote on the deal. At a heated meeting in May about the stadium, Chakwin was visibly reluctant to let the audience do a straw vote on the deal: eventually half the audience wound up voting against the project in a quick vote.
The group gathered on the sidewalk outside El Pato Feliz split up after almost an hour of conversation. Rose headed back out into the neighborhood to knock on some friends' doors. He is hoping to get the 30 signatures he needs to launch a recall effort by the time the Lents Neighborhood Association meets tonight - 6PM at the New Copper Penny. With 22 hours to go, he still needed 28 more.