Paulson laments future of Portland Beavers
Team’s owner discusses apparent failure to keep club in the area
Sunday, July 18, 2010
PORTLAND — Merritt Paulson sees Minor League Baseball in its final hour in the Rose City.
And while the Portland Beavers president/general manager still holds out hope that a last-minute deal will appear and eventually return the storied Triple-A franchise to Portland, Paulson has become increasingly resigned to the fact that he may soon have to sell the team and give up on a dream that started when he purchased the club in 2007.
During a wide-ranging interview Friday, a proud, passionate and at times defensive Paulson said he could envision the club being put up for sale by September at the earliest, but that a late-2010 time period was more likely.
“My guess is that an actual date of an announcement would be in the December range,” Paulson told The Columbian.
Paulson, who also owns the United States Soccer Federation’s Portland Timbers, repeatedly described his current ownership situation with the Beavers as being difficult and disappointing.
He said three plans — two with Portland and one with Beaverton, Ore. — to build a new stadium for the Beavers had been signed off on before falling through. Paulson was willing to contribute $20 million in private money for the proposed venue, and said nothing involved in any of the proposals ever changed from his end.
But while stating that he was not “fingerpointing,” he said a lack of political support and the complications of attempting to build a facility during a severe economic downturn were largely responsible for killing the deals.
“Anybody who says there’s not been a focus on baseball hasn’t been paying attention,” Paulson said. “I never thought we’d be in (this) position. And I am sensitive to it, frankly, where we’re talking about even a temporary relocation. But, yeah, it’s tough. I don’t know how to say it any differently.”
Paulson said MiLB — minor-league baseball’s organizing body — will require an answer about the Beavers’ future by the completion of the 2010 season, which ends Sept. 6 for Portland at PGE Park.
The Beavers’ temporary move from Portland after the 2010 campaign has already been announced, as the team’s multipurpose downtown facility undergoes an extensive renovation that will create a soccer-specific venue for the Timbers in 2011.
Cities such as El Paso, Texas, and San Marcos, Calif., have been mentioned as possible new sites for the Beavers.
But Paulson acknowledged that he will not become an absentee owner. Thus, if the Beavers do not have a proposal for a new stadium in the Portland area lined up by September, it is very likely MiLB will vacate the region for the foreseeable future.
“It’s not a foregone conclusion that I’m going to sell and move the team. But I’m not optimistic at this point in time,” Paulson said. “We don’t have any productive conversations with any jurisdiction in this area right now about a ballpark deal going on, pure and simple. You need that to retain optimism.”
Asked if he had already received an offer to sell the Beavers, Paulson said he could not comment about specific deals. But he acknowledged that numerous cities and many people are interested in adding a Triple-A club.
“We’re already evaluating,” Paulson said. “We have to make decisions.”
While Paulson hopes for a last-minute savior, Vancouver Mayor Tim Leavitt said Thursday that a group of private investors recently made a ninth-inning effort to bring the team to Clark County.
Leavitt stated that the investors — who want to remain anonymous — examined whether building a baseball-specific stadium for the Beavers in either downtown Vancouver or near the Clark County Fairgrounds would be financially feasible.
After running the numbers, the group determined that a new venue would not provide enough of an investment return, due to a lack of non-baseball activities that could be housed at the facility throughout the year.
“I know that the good Vancouver Mayor Tim Leavitt would like baseball there,” Paulson said. “But they don’t have financial tools to work with.”
Paulson added that he believes MiLB still wants to have a franchise located in the Portland-Vancouver area. But with just 21 home games remaining on the Beavers’ 2010 schedule, Paulson said his hopes are quickly fading.
“We had another county interested while we were talking to Beaverton. They wanted to do the deal. After Beaverton failed, they completely lost interest. They didn’t want to go through the (public relations),” Paulson said.
“There’s definitely a microscope effect that puts a spotlight on the vocal minority, and people don’t want to get taxed in a downturn. Even if it’s creating jobs or if there’s any cost to it. So, it’s very unpopular, even for the baseball people.”