Officials address stadium concerns

They say building, financing plans will get a public vetting

By Howard Buck, Columbian staff writer

Published:

 

County, city and college representatives on Wednesday assured 12 to 15 Arnada residents who attended a two-hour neighborhood association meeting that a proposed multiuse sports stadium on the Clark College campus will get a thorough public vetting.

So, said those officials, would any public finance component — such as a suggested 5 percent entertainment admissions tax — of a plan to let owners of the Yakima Bears Class A short-season minor league baseball team construct and operate the ballpark at least 38 summer dates each year.

The facility proposed on the footprint of Clark’s modest current baseball field is separated by 10 lanes of Interstate 5, concrete sound walls and tall stands of Douglas fir trees from homes of Arnada and Shumway residents.

Yet, many residents fear the impact of stadium noise, light and, especially, unwanted parking on their quiet streets by event visitors.

Chad Eiken, planning review manager for the Vancouver community development department, explained the project would qualify for Type III review of city land-use laws (as a significant alteration of Clark College’s adopted master plan).

That scrutiny would include traffic and parking analysis and require mitigation of sound and noise impacts, he said.

“You can leave confident we’ll take a really close look at this,” Eiken told the gathering of 40 at Vancouver Housing Authority headquarters, which included four Vancouver city council members.

City officials figured a minimum three-month timeline from filing of a development permit application to a public hearing, after which a hearings officer would rule on compliance with conditional-use rules.

Axel Swanson, a Clark County senior policy analyst, standing in for Commissioner Steve Stuart, said the board of commissioners plans a 9 a.m. July 13 workshop session for public dialogue on the stadium concept, followed by an August workshop session on its financing should they continue to pursue the matter.

Russ Ford, who lives near East McLoughlin Boulevard where it crosses under I-5, said Arnada already collects noise, by nature of its sloping geography. Besides parking worries, he fears outdoor music concerts could pump decibels into the area.

“In today’s entertainment, a lot of stuff is sort of edgy,” Ford said. “If it’s sports, it’s one level of noise. You start adding music and stuff (that’s something else),” he said.

New to conversation of the artificial turf stadium (which Clark College President Bob Knight noted could host local soccer and lacrosse games, besides the school’s baseball and men’s and women’s soccer teams) is proposed additional spectator capacity on “berm, picnic and other areas” described as expected amenities in minor league ballparks by Ron Arp, local spokesman-advocate for Bear owners Mike and Laura McMurray.

As noted in a draft Letter of Intent (for exclusive negotiation) with county officials dated June 15, the stadium would have 3,500 to 4,000 “fixed seats,” with capacity for 6,000 persons, combined.

That had some residents wondering if there weren’t plans for 8,000- or even 10,000-person concerts, down the road.

Arp noted that county commissioners were unlikely to approve any conditional use “that would compete with other county assets” — namely, the Sleep Country Amphitheater, home to large music events.

Knight reiterated that Clark College has taken no stance on the stadium, pro or con.

Use of the facility would save the college maintenance cost on its existing field, and rental costs for graduation at the Amphitheater, and occasionally for sports events, he noted.

College trustees won’t take up the matter until there’s an approved use permit on the table, he said.

One certainty: He and trustees are committed that budget-strapped Clark College will bear no new cost whatsoever for the facility.

As for parking, Knight and Arp noted the nearly perfect balance of Clark’s 3,500 or so available campus parking spots and the Bears’ needs.

Student use of Clark parking peaks at about 1 p.m., and dwindles sharply by evening time, he said. The Northwest League operates between early June and Labor Day, Clark’s summer quarter, when only one-third or one-fourth as many students attend compared to fall, winter and spring quarters.

There should be ample campus parking — using the city’s conditional permit ratio of four visitors per vehicle, he and Arp said.

As to concern over many potential events staged other times of the year, Knight noted they would be evening or weekend events — again, when student parking demand is low, or nonexistent.

One question for which Knight had no answer was posed by Shumway neighborhood resident Chris Crowley, a self-described baseball fan who views the proposed admissions tax dimly.

Crowley suggested that Clark College build and operate the stadium, leasing it to the Bears team.

That would alleviate much public angst over taxpayers being on the hook for the ballpark, should the team fail or later choose to leave Vancouver.

“That’s a much cleaner, clearer structure the public might support,” Crowley said. The McMurrays’ baseball operation, Short Season LLC, could indeed legally declare bankruptcy and elude outstanding debt and charges due, he said.

“It’s a big leap of faith to put on a team that can go bankrupt,” he said.

Knight said neither he nor college officials had considered that approach.

Owners of the Yakima Bears publicly announced on May 13 plans to move to Vancouver.

As for the admissions tax, a preliminary estimate by the county’s budget office calculated that a 5 percent tax would generate $965,000 a year by taxing tickets to movies, the Clark County Fair, Washougal Motocross, the new stadium, rounds of golf and other activities.

Commissioners have said they would consider exempting nonprofit organizations.

Under a proposal submitted last week to the county, the owners of the Yakima Bears would privately secure financing to build, own and operate a stadium at Clark College.

In exchange, county commissioners would approve the tax and revenues that would go into a facility fund to be used to pay off construction bonds.