By Don MacGillivray
Is the dream of major league baseball in Portland possible? A growing number of Portland’s notables think so.
Craig Cheek, Nike executive, Mike Barrett, former Blazers broadcaster, and Jason Atkinson, former Oregon State Senator have formed the Portland Diamond Project (PDP) to raise one to two billion dollars to make it happen prior to the 2022 season.
There is a group of silent partners helping financially and their connections to help may make it a success. This is the most organized and sophisticated group that is working to bring baseball to a West Coast city.
Russell Wilson, quarterback of the Seattle Seahawks, and his wife, the internationally known singer Ciara, are major players and investors in the Portland Diamond Project. Wilson’s involvement adds star power and high-profile visibility in the efforts to secure a new baseball team.
The couple’s connections to baseball includes his experience in high school, college, and a brief professional career while Ciana worked at Turner Field in Atlanta. They would like to help generate the same energy for baseball that the Timbers and Thorns have done at Providence Park.
Another recent addition to the team is big league baseball player, Darwin Barney, as investor and adviser. Barney is an iconic figure in Oregon baseball, winning back to back NCAA Championships with the Oregon State Beavers and earning a Golden Glove award in 2012 playing for the Chicago Cubs. There are other figures involved with the ownership group, according to the PDP, not all of whom have been formally announced.
Portland is growing rapidly and will continue to do so. This is the 22nd largest metropolitan market in the country. It ranks between Pittsburgh and San Antonio in size. Seventy percent of the estimated three million residents of the Portland-Vancouver metropolitan area are between the ages of 20 and 64 and fifty-four percent own their own homes. It’s now a growing West Coast city with a young, savvy, high-tech crowd. They are mobile, well off, and looking for first class sports venues.
Portland’s Trail Blazers are the only first class professional sports team out of the four major sports. The proximity to Seattle is a bonus because the teams can play in the same division and will renew the great rivalry between Seattle and Portland.
This is a good time to consider it as Major League Baseball has been thinking about adding two expansion teams to create two sixteen team leagues and there are two teams that may want to move to new cities.
The PDP is in frequent communications with Robert Manfred, Commissioner of Baseball, and he wants to expand major league baseball, which makes Portland well positioned to benefit. They are open to building a new expansion team or helping to relocate an existing team to Portland. The next two years are critical to making it happen.
Portland is first among those that are in the running for an expansion team. Other cities under consideration include: San Antonio, Charlotte, Montreal, Las Vegas, Austin, Oklahoma City, and New Orleans.
The Oakland A’s and Tampa Bay Rays are potentially looking for new homes, but Major League Commissioner Rob Manfred says brand new expansion teams are under consideration.
The preferred location for a baseball stadium is Terminal 2 owned by the Port of Portland in Portland’s NW Industrial area just north of the Pearl District. An agreement in principle was signed with the Port of Portland in November.
The site is 45 acres with almost a half mile of Willamette River frontage. The group expects to build an iconic ballpark along the Willamette River that will stimulate commercial development and take advantage of the great views of the riverfront and the city.
The development of the stadium building and the entire site will be sustainable, equitable, and accessible and will improve Portland’s reputation.
The new stadium will be state of the art. A new stadium in Atlanta cost $700 million without a roof. Portland’s stadium, with a roof, is likely to require over one billion dollars and expects to build a cutting edge, baseball only stadium with a retractable roof to seat 35,000 fans.
A national architectural firm that has built twenty-two sports stadiums in America is working on the design of the project and other national talent is on board working out the details. The project has the general support of the City of Portland and the entire Portland region.
Supporters believe there is a likelihood of a major corporate sponsor and the PDP expects the stadium to also be used as a major entertainment venue, to fit in with the city’s live music scene. Another potential funding source for the PDP is a previously established state tax. In 2003, there was an attempt to relocate the Montreal Expos to Oregon.
The Oregon Legislature passed Senate Bill 5, which could provide a $150 million bond for the expansion of baseball in Portland. This money remains a possible source of funding that may be applied toward a new Major League Baseball stadium.
Senator Ginny Burdick wants the legislature to review this legislation to see if the current proposal is the best use of state resources. The legislation provides taxes from baseball players and officials that would support up to twenty percent of the cost of the new stadium.
Senator Burdick believes there may be more important uses for this money (such as schools). Without major league baseball, there wouldn’t be the tax revenue, so the Portland Diamond Project will work hard to retain it. The PDP is not asking for any other government funding to be part of the project.
It remains to be seen if greater Portland really wants major league baseball, but it would seem that there are many advantages to making it happen.