A DEAFENING CHORUS of boos greeted multimillionaire Merritt Paulson as he approached the microphone at a packed Southeast Portland neighborhood meeting last Thursday, June 18. It wasn't exactly the welcome the baseball and soccer team owner wanted to hear—the next morning he pulled out on plans to build a Triple-A Baseball stadium in Lents Park, surprising the neighborhood and his allies on city council.
Some neighbors saw the proposal to funnel $40.3 million of the area's urban renewal funds into new Portland Beavers ballpark construction as a rare chance to bring major change to the neighborhood. But others feared the stadium would be a financial flop and questioned Paulson's motives.
"One two three four, Paulson wants to rob the poor!" chanted protestors outside the meeting, where Lents' Urban Renewal Advisory Committee heard testimony from city officials, Paulson, and neighbors. When Paulson got his minute at the mic, he tried to counter impressions that he was steamrolling Lents into building the Beavers ballpark.
"There's a lot of money at stake, this is your money, this is your neighborhood, I will embrace whatever decision you make," said Paulson, to a smattering of applause. Forty-five locals signed up to speak in front of the crowd and everyone who spoke had harsh words for the proposed project. Paulson did not wind up giving neighbors time to take an official vote—he ducked out of the meeting immediately after speaking and sent out a letter nixing the deal the very next morning.
All of the city commissioners—except Randy Leonard—took the dead deal in stride, focusing their attention on preparations for turning PGE Park into a Major League Soccer stadium. But Leonard was irate on Friday, June 19. "He made a deal with me," said Leonard. He argues Paulson caved to "the mob" of neighbors instead of letting the Lents urban renewal group vote on the plan as he originally promised.
Now, Leonard says he has convinced Paulson to work with him until August 1 on finding a new site for the stadium, perhaps at the Expo Center or Portland Meadows.
"I don't just want to give up on keeping the Beavers in Portland," says Leonard.