Yakima makes effort to keep baseball team

Owner still intent on bringing Class A club to Vancouver

By Stephanie Rice, Columbian Vancouver city government reporter

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How the county did the math

A Clark County analyst shares how she compiled her report in an entry on our local politics blog.

A Yakima City councilman tried to rally support Tuesday to keep the Yakima Bears, but a co-owner of the team said Wednesday that doesn’t affect plans to try and move the team to Vancouver and play in a new stadium at Clark College.

K.L. Wombacher said he was surprised the Yakima City Council voted 5-1 to approach two other towns — Union Gap and Selah — about a joint effort to build a new stadium.

The vote was led by Councilor Dave Edler, a former Seattle Mariner who has always supported the Class A Bears, Wombacher said.

Since the May 13 announcement that he and co-owners Mike and Laura McMurray want to move the team to Vancouver, Wombacher said he hasn’t heard many pleas of “please don’t go.”

“The comments in the media have been disappointing. Not that we expected everyone to fight for us,” Wombacher said.

The Yakima Bears’ stadium doesn’t meet league square-footage standards.

When the Portland Beavers became the Tucson Padres, it left the Portland metro area as the largest market in the country without a professional baseball team.

The Bears want to capitalize on the Beavers’ departure.

“We felt like we made a commitment last Friday, and our commitment remains the same,” Wombacher said. “If the (Clark College) facility gets built, that’s where we’ll play. We feel like our word is worth something.”

A likely proposal for the $23 million stadium at Clark College — east of Interstate 5 and west of Fort Vancouver Way, on the current baseball field — would be a 70-30 public-private split.

Clark County commissioners will be asked to approve a 5 percent entertainment admissions tax.

A formal proposal will be submitted to commissioners as early as next week, Wombacher said.

The next step would be for commissioners to discuss the proposal at a work session. Commissioners would need to have a public hearing before voting on the tax.

Ron Arp, a local consultant hired by the Bears, said Short Season LLC, the company that owns the team, would sign a minimum 20-year lease with a no-relocation clause.

Any agreement would have the full support of Minor League Baseball, Arp said, and any contingencies would be spelled out in the contractual process.

Mike Thiessen of The Madison Group in Chicago, a business that connects sports teams and communities, initially estimated a Clark County admissions tax would bring in approximately $1 million a year.

County budget analyst Adriana Prata, who crunched numbers with county financial analyst Mark Gassaway, said Wednesday they estimate the tax would bring in $965,000 a year.

More than half of those revenues would come from moviegoers; the cost of a $10 ticket would increase to $10.50.

Wombacher said he was pleased with the county’s estimate.

“We’d been kind of guessing all along,” Wombacher said. “This was the best guess of our consultant.”

He said the revenue estimate will help Thiessen finish the formal proposal.

“We’ve got a big risk in this, just like the county and the community does,” Wombacher said. “We want to make sure nobody is going to be stuck on the hook with something they can’t afford.”

Commissioners will likely be asked to issue bonds to finance 70 percent of the capital costs of a 3,500-seat stadium, while Short Season LLC would cover 30 percent.

The bonds would be repaid using revenue from the admissions tax.

The stadium would also be used by Clark College baseball, softball and soccer teams, as well as youth leagues.

Short Season LLC would pay maintenance and operations costs.

The Yakima Bears draw approximately 1,900 fans a game, and Wombacher said he thinks in Vancouver the Bears could draw 2,800 people.

Ticket prices would range from $5 to $15; the Bears would play 38 home games a year between June and Labor Day.

The Bears belong to the short-season Northwest League, which has squads in Boise, Eugene, Salem-Keizer, Tri-Cities, Spokane, Everett and Vancouver B.C.

The Bears have been in Yakima since 1990 and are affiliated with the Arizona Diamondbacks.

As to the question of what a Vancouver team would be called, Wombacher said he’s hiring Plan B Branding to oversee logo development.

If financing is approved, there will be a contest to name the team.

Stephanie Rice: 360-735-4508 or stephanie.rice@columbian.com.