[Full disclosure: As this article was going to publication, the author was applying for employment with the incoming mayor's administration. -- eds.]
Commissioner Randy Leonard and Mayor-elect Sam Adams know a hot potato when they see one.
A brand-new sports stadium—built in part with city funding—is a controversial topic no matter how you slice it. When you toss in a cruddy economy, citizens' concerns about public investment in a stadium will surely be amplified. That stadium will be beat to death against crumbling streets, foreclosed homes, and unemployment lines.
But Leonard and Adams see plenty of potential in Merritt Paulson's plan to bring Major League Soccer to a revamped PGE Park, and move the Beavers' minor league baseball team to a new baseball stadium elsewhere in the city.
So they're kicking the issue to a task force. It's a smart plan: The task force is stocked with smart people like John Bradley, who's sat on the PGE Park oversight committee for several years and chairs the Northwest District Association land use committee, Lindsay Desrochers, VP of Finance and Administration for Portland State University, and a dozen other local business and neighborhood leaders. It's all headed up by Steve Maser, a professor at Willamette University who teaches business-government relations and conflict management.
The task force will hold public meetings, and will be held to a set of guiding principles—like "existing city programs will not be cut to help fund the project," and "taxpayers should see a return on the public investment in the project in three to five years." In other words, not only does the task force have to come up with a proposal that the city council can swallow, they also have to take the initial public scrutiny and heat. (Good luck, guys!)
I recommend getting to the task force's meetings early to snag a seat with a good view. No doubt sports fans who want a new stadium will be there in force, as will people armed with info showing that stadiums are risky public investments. And let's not forget the folks who are pro-stadium, and want it in their backyard—whether that's in Lents, the Rose Quarter, or on Terminal 1 north of the Fremont Bridge. It's a "catalyst" project, after all.
While we're on the subject of catalysts, Commissioner-elect Amanda Fritz has been mum about her staff picks. She says she won't be announcing her team until they're all in place—and she's held off on hiring because Adams hasn't assigned bureaus yet.
But she has figured out what three of the positions will be: a community specialist, a development specialist, and an environmental specialist. Though she's on a holiday break, Fritz told the Mercury on Tuesday that she plans to post details about those spots this week. She notes that a trio like that will help her respond to issues in just about any bureau: "We need to cover all the bases regardless of what bureaus we get," she says.