Class A baseball can succeed in Vancouver

Greg Jayne: Commentary

By Greg Jayne, Columbian opinion editor

Published:

 

Let’s cut to the chase.

Let’s cut past the rhetoric about the evils of a public-private partnership, past the bombast about an entertainment tax, past the caterwauling about how government should never do anything that costs anybody any money, and let’s get to the point: The idea of bringing minor-league baseball to Vancouver is a quality-of-life issue.

It’s about what residents envision for Clark County, about providing affordable entertainment, about how you want to spend your summer evenings. It’s about forging an identity for Vancouver, a fact that could become lost if the naysayers focus the discussion on the fine print rather than the large details.

The owners of the short-season Class A Yakima Bears have presented a proposal to build a 3,500-seat multi-purpose stadium at Clark College and move their team to Vancouver. The public component of the plan would be a 5 percent county-wide fee on things such as game tickets and concert tickets and movie admissions.

This, in the most curmudgeonly corners of the county, has led to some outcry. The question, the sourpusses say, is why should people who go to a movie help pay for a ballpark across town?

Which is a reasonable point. Until you consider that taxes pay for roads that not everybody uses, and parks that not everybody visits, and schools that your kids might or might not attend. Until you consider that most taxes aren’t direct user fees; they’re pooled for what is deemed to be in the best interest of the public.

Oh, there are questions about the proposal, of course. The details of the financing haven’t been closely examined, and residents of nearby neighborhoods will, understandably, be less than thrilled with the proposal.

But the first question that must be asked has a slam-dunk answer: Can a short-season Class A team be successful in Vancouver?

“Definitely, definitely,” Vancouver resident Jack Cain said. “Vancouver people want their own identity; they’re Vancouver USA.

“There’s more than one team that would be interested in moving to Portland or Vancouver.”

Cain understands the issues as well as anybody. He owned a Class A team for 14 years in Bend, Ore., and for six years in Portland. After selling the Portland Rockies to make way for the Triple-A Portland Beavers, he worked for the Beavers for nine years.

Before moving his team from Bend, Cain said, he considered sites at Kiggins Bowl or the Clark County Fairgrounds for a move to Vancouver. And he has given his stamp of approval to the Clark County site.

“At that location, with the freeway access, it would be ideal,” he said.

Not that the plan to move the Bears is flawless. There are some misnomers in the proposal.

One is the idea that a baseball team will generate economic activity, when studies have shown that it would merely redirect spending.

Another is the idea that a Vancouver team would draw heavily from the Portland market. As a recovering Portlander, I can testify that people in Oregon think there’s a wall at the border rather than a river.

But those are relatively minor points. The facts are that Clark County alone is big enough to support a Class A baseball team, and the plan is a perfectly reasonable one.

“We’ve narrowed our search right here to this region,” said K.L. Wombacher, general manager of the Yakima club. “It would be bad business not to do this.”

Wombacher was talking about the proposal from the club’s standpoint. But the same could be said about the plan from Clark County’s perspective.

Greg Jayne is Sports editor of The Columbian. He can be reached at 360-735-4531, or by email atgreg.jayne@columbian.com. To read his blog, go to columbian.com/weblogs/GregJayne