Exclusive baseball talks OK’d by county

Some residents oppose raising taxes to pay for Class A stadium

By John Branton, Columbian Staff Reporter

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Should officials begin discussions to — maybe — bring a new stadium and minor league baseball to Clark College?

Yes said two of three Clark County commissioners Tuesday night to entering into a 60-day agreement that’s limited to discussing the idea exclusively between local officials and the owners of the Class A Yakima Bears, who are proposing it.

That’s all it means, officials said, explaining the agreement ensures that the county and Short Season LLC can’t discuss it with other parties and try to leverage better deals. It doesn’t mean it is going to happen.

At a full-house public-comment meeting Tuesday night, Commissioners Marc Boldt and Steve Stuart voted yes. Commissioner Tom Mielke voted no, saying the proposal is moving much too fast and needs far more study, especially in terms of who would pay for it.

Commissioners have yet to even have a work session on the proposal, but they plan to.

They know they will likely be asked to impose a 5 percent countywide entertainment ticket tax and issue bonds to cover 70 percentof capital construction costs for a stadium at Clark College.

A 5 percent admissions tax would raise a $10 movie ticket to $10.50, for example, and some of the estimated 100 people who attended asked questions like, “Why add a tax on movie and symphony tickets for baseball?”

Some moviegoers, perhaps working as baby sitters, might not be able to pay the extra cost, an audience member said.

Several boys in baseball uniforms attended the meeting to show support for the idea, including one boy who was so shy before commissioners that he could only say “yes” and “yeah” to their questions aimed at getting him to comment.

Proponents of the idea have met with large numbers of community members to float the idea, including Rotary clubs, neighborhood associations and a contractors group, said Ron Arp with Identity Clark County, who has been hired by the Bears to work on the proposed move. He emphasized that the stadium would be a multiuse facility, not just for pro baseball. An admissions tax has been used before in many areas, he said.

But many people said in this terrible economic downturn and time of high unemployment, it’s a really bad time to raise any taxes.

Barbara Ford, who lives in the Arnada neighborhood, took a dim view of the proposed location at Clark College, saying it would increase traffic in the area. No matter how big the proposed parking lot would be, fans would park in Arnada and walk to the stadium, she said.

“The noise, the lights, I don’t know,” she said.

And why couldn’t the college and the proponents pay for it, and not raise taxes on the public in a time of job cuts? she asked.

Rick Porter of Vancouver said the stadium would be a boon for young baseball players and those in high school and college.

“I think it’s something for the kids that we need to do,” he said.

One person who spoke said the whole thing smacks of “lots of backroom deal-making.”

“My heart says, ‘Yes, bring baseball to Vancouver,’” said Clark County Assessor Peter Van Nortwick, but he said the idea of using taxpayer money should be researched, and that officials should consider other ideas.

“I think there are a lot of questions to answer,” said Suze Marshall, co-chairwoman of the Arnada Neighborhood Association, adding that the association hasn’t even had time to meet and discuss it. “This fast tracking is making us all nervous and concerned.”

In a city that has problems keeping parks maintained, she questioned the idea, and raised concerns about extra traffic.

“I don’t think we are opposed to baseball,” she added. “We are concerned about the tax.”

“We have double-digit unemployment here,” said Chuck Miller. “Parents struggling to make ends meet, homes under foreclosure. We can’t afford it. Too many people are struggling.”

He’d be a supporter if no tax money was used, he said.

Chris Crowley, who lives in the Shumway neighborhood, said the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra has money problems already and said its tickets shouldn’t be taxed to support baseball.

“Please come up with another way to finance it,” he said.

“Clark College is getting too sweet of a deal,” a woman said, adding that taxpayer money shouldn’t be used and, “You need to stop this process and start over.”

“It gives a place for the community to gather,” said Rick Baranzono, a Vancouver investor.

He added after the meeting that Clark College would be centrally located for fans in the Portland metro area.

Perhaps a symphony could play there as well, he said.

“Vancouver needs to have some fun,” he said.

Commissioner Stuart has said previously that owners are willing to finance 30 percent of capital construction costs — and all maintenance and operations costs — of a $23 million stadium they’d use for 38 games a year.

The rest of the year, the 3,500-seat stadium would be used by Clark College teams and be available for community games or events.

Stuart also has said that the Yakima Herald-Republic reported the area stands to lose $206,000 in hotel revenues if the Bears leave and that construction of the stadium would create 450-500 temporary jobs.

Commissioner Mielke has said he’d consider a countywide vote — which has not otherwise been discussed — on the tax and financing, but that’s it.

The stadium would be built east of Interstate 5 and west of Fort Vancouver Way.

Arp earlier said he and Barbara Kerr, spokeswoman for Clark College, would meet with residents of the Shumway neighborhood.

John Branton: 360-735-4513 or john.branton@columbian.com.