Bears promise to negotiate exclusively with Clark County

Deal with baseball team expected to be signed Tuesday

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Clark County commissioners on Tuesday are expected to sign an exclusivity contract with the owners of the Yakima Bears.

County Administrator Bill Barron said the contract states that the team will negotiate only with the county as it seeks to build a stadium and bring the Class A baseball team to Vancouver.

On May 13, owners announced plans to move from Yakima, where the team has the lowest attendance among teams in the short-season Northwest League.

The contract will be signed during the commissioners’ meeting, 10 a.m. Tuesday at the Public Service Center, 1300 Franklin St.

While there will not be a public hearing, people can always express their opinion — on baseball or any other subject — during the public comment period.

The contract does not guarantee the Bears will move to Vancouver, but only prevents the owners from negotiating with any other jurisdictions.

In Yakima, there has been a halfhearted attempt to get the team to stay.

Under the terms of the contract, if the county catches the team negotiating with another jurisdiction, the owners would have to pay the county $250,000, Barron said.

K.L. Wombacher, general manager and co-owner of the Bears, said he’s committed to bringing the team to Vancouver and signing a 20-year minimum lease with a no-relocation clause.

Wombacher will give a presentation June 1 to members of the Vancouver Rotary Club.

The deal will hinge on whether commissioners approve a 5 percent entertainment ticket tax and agree to issue approximately $16 million in bonds to finance 70 percent of capital costs.

Commissioners have yet to receive a formal proposal from Wombacher, who co-owns the team with Mike and Laura McMurray.

In the six months leading up to the May 13 announcement, baseball backers met individually with local elected officials, Clark College officials and business owners to gauge support before seeking permission from minor and major league officials to relocate.

Commissioner Steve Stuart has said he’s supportive of bringing baseball to Vancouver but stresses there will be a public process.

Commissioner Tom Mielke said Monday the county doesn’t have the best track record with projects that go beyond providing basic governmental services, citing the Sleep Country Amphitheater and Tri-Mountain Golf Course as examples. And, he said, he doesn’t like the idea of a new tax.

Commissioner Marc Boldt said Wednesday he likes the idea of bringing baseball to Vancouver but wants more information.

And Boldt doesn’t like that an admissions tax would raise the cost of Clark County Fair tickets.

Mike Thiessen of The Madison Group in Chicago, a business that connects sports teams and communities, said Tuesday a formal proposal will be submitted to commissioners soon after they sign the exclusivity contract.

The next step would be scheduling a work session with county commissioners. If commissioners do agree to approve the admissions tax, they would need to hold a public hearing.

Owners have discussed a 70-30 public-private split to finance a $23 million, 3,500-seat stadium on the site of Clark College’s baseball field.

The Bears, who are affiliated with the Arizona Diamondbacks, would play 38 home games during the summer.

The stadium would be a multiuse facility with all-weather turf and would be used by Clark College teams. It would be available for Little League, other youth sports teams and other community uses, Thiessen said.

In addition to putting up 30 percent of the construction costs, the owners would pay for ongoing maintenance and operations, Thiessen said.

While Wombacher has talked about getting a stadium built so the team could play next summer in Vancouver, and Thiessen has started working with architects and engineers, that tight time frame doesn’t allow for any kind of delay.

The city of Vancouver does have an expedited permit process, but anyone could appeal the proposal, throwing the Bears off schedule.

Thiessen said Tuesday that while the Bears would ideally play in Vancouver in 2012, their lease in Yakima runs through 2015.

Among the many issues yet to be decided or even publicly discussed include who would own the stadium and how the bonds would be structured.

Clark County Auditor Greg Kimsey said Wednesday that the county does have strong enough credit to issue the bonds, which would be handled by the treasurer’s office if authorized by commissioners.

A county budget analyst and financial analyst estimated that an admissions tax would bring in $965,000 a year, which would be used to repay the bonds.

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

Five counties in the state (Franklin, Grant, King, Kitsap and Snohomish) have admission taxes; 51 cities, ranging in size from Seattle to Omak, have enacted the tax.

With the departure of the Portland Beavers, the metro area became a magnet for teams such as Yakima.

The team, which has been in Yakima since 1990, draws about 1,900 people a game.

In Vancouver, the team would hope to draw crowds of approximately 2,800 people per game.

Other teams in the short-season Class A Northwest League are Boise, Idaho; Eugene, Ore.; Salem-Keizer, Ore.; Tri-Cities, Spokane, Everett and Vancouver, B.C.

A Facebook page, “Bring Pro Baseball to Vancouver,” at http://www.facebook.com/baseballvancouver, has more than 1,600 fans.

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