RESIDENTS OF the Southeast Portland Lents neighborhood are cautiously optimistic about a sports deal that could build an 8,000-seat stadium for the Beavers minor-league baseball team in their beloved neighborhood park. The debate among the community is primarily about parking—but at its core, it's also a discussion about what kind of neighborhood Lents wants to be.
The possible Beavers stadium move actually hinges on deals within a different sport: Merritt Paulson, the owner of the Portland Beavers and Timbers, is looking to acquire a Major League Soccer (MLS) team for the city. If Portland wins the soccer contract, PGE Park—the current home to both teams—would need to be brought up to MLS standards. That would mean shelling out public funding for an estimated $35 million renovation of PGE Park and booting the Beavers elsewhere.
Consultants hired by Paulson think the best place for a new baseball-only stadium is where the 1,000-seat Charles Walker Stadium currently sits, on the edge of the grassy 38-acre Lents Park at SE 92nd and Holgate, close to a planned MAX line. The site is also in the middle of the Lents Town Center Urban Renewal Area, which has neighbors fantasizing about the new restaurants and retail spaces that could spring up to serve the game-goers.
Beavers games at PGE Park have brought in an average 5,408 fans per game this season. With 72 home games a year, that could mean big money for the struggling neighborhood. At a meeting last month, neighbors say Beavers consultants told them each game could bring $250,000 into the neighborhood.
"Not all the people in the neighborhood really believe that it could bring in that much," says Jeffrey Rose, a member of the Lents Neighborhood Association (LNA) who is more excited about the new social dynamics a stadium could create than the economic benefits. "You'd see more Lents folks going to the game, and it'd be something positive where we could see our neighbors," Rose says.
The sticking point for many neighbors is that the 5,000 people potentially pouring into Lents for a game would need places to park. Paving over a major part of the park—the neighborhood's precious open space—is not a popular idea.
"It's a very, very important park to the neighborhood," says LNA Crime Prevention Coordinator Clint Lenard. "We have music in the park, we have movies in the park. I'm in favor of having AAA baseball here, but I'm not in favor of donating half of Lents Park to make it happen."
The Lents neighborhood email list has been lighting up with ideas since a stadium work-group meeting last week. Some suggested locating parking at the nearby Eastport Plaza, or maybe constructing an underground parking garage. But the email discussion also contained reflections on how the stadium could change Lents' character.
"I hope we also can visualize this community for the next generation, and consider what we are passing along for them to build their memories of," wrote LNA Chair Dewey Akers in a sincere, seven-paragraph-long email to his neighbors.
But Lents may be getting ahead of itself: The nitty-gritty planning details are still for a highly hypothetical parking lot, with the whole deal hinging on whether Portland will win the MLS contract.
"It's a competition, and one of the factors will be the community support for the stadium," says Beavers consultant Dan Lavey, referring to both the enthusiasm about the stadium and the willingness to pony up public money for the renovations.