THE DEAL to bring Major League Soccer to Portland is back off life support for the time being, after the city last week nixed the plan to use urban renewal money to plug a $15 million hole in the cost of renovations to PGE Park for Major League Soccer.
Timbers owner Merritt Paulson will plug the gap ["Finding $15 Million," News, July 2] with an $8 million cash contribution and a prepayment of $11.1 million in rent and ticket taxes. He will also slightly scale back plans for the renovation to lower its overall cost. Meanwhile, the city will borrow $11.2 million from its special "spectator fund," which is funded by a tax on ticket sales. If the cost of the construction overruns, the city will absorb up to $1 million in costs, but Paulson will pay for all overruns beyond the initial $1 million. The city will also pay a $700,000 "soft cost" by waiving certain development fees for the arena.
Removing urban renewal money—which is supposed to be used to regenerate "blighted areas"—removes a major barrier in gaining public support for the $31 million renovation. Multnomah County Chair Ted Wheeler has been an outspoken opponent of using urban renewal money for soccer since the prospect of a deal was first raised in council back in March.
"Clearly this is a much better deal for taxpayers," said City Commissioner Amanda Fritz at a council hearing on the deal last Thursday, July 9. Both Fritz and Commissioner Nick Fish say they need two weeks to look at the details of the plan before expressing support, but at this point it is possible that the financing could proceed with a unanimous vote.
The city waived its usual competitive bidding process to go forward with the deal, but Commissioner Randy Leonard said that was okay because "we have a private sector partner with a lot of skin in the game."
Fish asked Paulson about potentially bringing in a Major League Soccer women's team—Fish's daughter is a keen soccer player. "It's on my radar," Paulson said.