A HANDFUL OF VOLUNTEERS in Lents are in the hot seat to decide whether professional baseball will continue to exist in Portland, in a rare instance of actual city planning power resting outside city hall.
The Lents Urban Renewal Advisory Committee (URAC) is expecting to vote next week on whether to delay $42 million in planned urban renewal projects like building sidewalks and affordable housing, to instead fund construction of a new Beavers Triple-A ballpark. City officials promise the stadium will revitalize the downtrodden neighborhood, but as the voting deadline nears, neighbors are split and many of their questions still unanswered.
The stadium's powerful backers—Mayor Sam Adams and Commissioner Randy Leonard—promise they will follow the lead of the neighbors.
"At this point it comes down to what the people on the Lents URAC decide is a good investment," says Adams' spokesman, Roy Kaufmann. If the group votes down the stadium, the city is out of options for where to relocate the Beavers after Major League Soccer moves into PGE Park. Without a supportive Lents vote, says Kaufmann, "We don't see an opportunity for baseball to stay in Portland."
The URAC is a volunteer group of 15 homeowners, and business and nonprofit representatives who do not usually get thrust into the limelight. Several have lived in the area for decades and all have close ties to the community—which means they feel the fallout of their yea or nay vote on the highly politicized deal that decides the future of their neighborhood.
Only eight of the 15 URAC members responded to requests to comment, and of those, one was so worried about the personal repercussions for his support of the stadium deal that he refused to go on record publicly.
"As soon as your name gets out there that you support it, there's a very vocal group that hounds you," says the committee member. Committee chair Cora Potter has been the most outspoken link between the city and the neighbors. While she has taken flack online and in meetings for her support of the stadium, this week she said carefully that she wants to see "the full details of the proposal" before deciding how to vote. "In my mind, there is no deal to oppose yet."
Last week, the Mercury discovered that the mayor's office had commissioned a one-day study into how many jobs stadium construction would create ["Sitting on the Truth," News, May 28]. The rushed results are embarrassing for the mayor's office: The $49 million total investment would actually create a short-term net loss of 182 jobs, according to the report. The mayor's office cancelled any further study of the stadium's economic impact on the neighborhood, so it is likely that the URAC vote will be based on the stadium's impact on the area's pride and character.
At least five members of the URAC oppose the current deal. While some businesses in the area strongly support bringing the Beavers to Lents, the two business representatives on the URAC are less enthused.
Gary Sargent, who runs a car dealership in Southeast, says he became skeptical when Leonard could not answer his "basic business 101" questions about the deal. The current deal does not specify who will pay for cost overruns and how many years the Beavers must remain in the stadium.
"Lents needs a business anchor, but I don't think I'd be doing the business community any favors if I vote in favor of a stadium that could get abandoned," says Sargent, who is on the fence but would vote against the deal if those questions are not answered. "People are living on dirt roads in Lents and we're thinking of delaying these improvements to build the stadium."
"If someone applied for a business loan with the criteria they had, they'd be turned down," echoes real estate broker and committee member Charlie Braymen.
"Right now I haven't been presented with enough positive information that this would be better than the scheduled urban renewal improvements," says committee member (and descendent of Lents founder Oliver P. Lent) Rachel Lent Cunningham. "Everything on this project feels rushed."
Meanwhile, a group of neighbors calling themselves Friends of Lents Park organized to meet on Wednesday, June 3, to protest the planned stadium location. Swing council vote Dan Saltzman is also still undecided on the deal.