Commissioners balk at baseball contract

Yakima team says decision doesn’t affect plans to move here

By Stephanie Rice, Columbian Vancouver city government reporter

Published:

Updated: May 31, 2011, 6:19 PM

 

Update

Previously: The county’s chief civil attorney tried to protect the county by telling the owners of the Yakima Bears they had to sign an exclusivity contract.

What’s new: County commissioners decided not to sign the contract.

What’s next: Commissioners are expected to approve the contract June 7.

Rejecting the advice of their own attorney, county commissioners on Tuesday decided not to sign an exclusivity contract with the owners of the Yakima Bears.

Clark County Chief Civil Deputy Prosecutor Bronson Potter drafted the agreement so the county would be protected from the owners trying to play them against ­Yakima, which has made an effort to try to keep the team, or any other jurisdiction.

Commissioners Marc Boldt and Steve Stuart seemed prepared to vote in favor of the contract.

Once Commissioner Tom Mielke, who said he didn’t understand the rush to sign any type of contract, said he’s “more committed” to the neighbors who don’t want a stadium at Clark College than he is to the Yakima Bears, Boldt and Stuart backed off.

They voted to set the matter over to 6 p.m. Tuesday, June 7.

After the meeting, Mike McMurray, co-owner of the Bears, said the commissioners’ delay doesn’t affect his plans.

“This really wasn’t our idea,” he said, referring to the exclusivity contract. “Our goal is to make something work here.”

County commissioners meet at 10 a.m., except on the first Tuesday of the month, when they meet in the evening.

Barbara Ford, an Arnada neighborhood resident, said Tuesday that commissioners should not be discussing baseball business in the morning when most people are at work.

Mielke said he wants to discuss the contract at an evening meeting so more people can attend.

Potter tried explaining to Mielke that the contract only serves to protect the county.

Employees from the prosecutor’s office and the budget office have already spent considerable time on the idea, Potter said.

Under the contract, Short Season LLC would have to pay the county $250,000 if it negotiated with Yakima or anyone else. Likewise, the county couldn’t engage in negotiations with any other minor league club looking to get into what became a coveted market once the Portland Beavers left the Rose City.

The contract doesn’t commit commissioners to approving a proposed 5 percent admissions tax or agreeing to finance a new stadium, Potter said.

“It’s just binding in the sense that we are only talking to each other,” Potter said.

The Bears have until July 1 to seal a deal in the Portland-area market. That deadline could be extended but would

require permission from the Northwest League, Minor League Baseball and Major League Baseball, said Ron Arp, a project adviser for Identity Clark County hired by the Bears to help with the proposed move to the county.

If the Bears don’t lock down the market, that could open the door for another team to negotiate a deal.

On May 13, owners of the Class A Yakima Bears announced plans to move to ­Vancouver. They want commissioners to approve a 5 percent entertainment admissions tax and finance 70 percent, or

$16 million, of capital costs to build a stadium at Clark College.

The owners would pay 30 percent of construction costs and for all ongoing maintenance and operations costs.

The county would pay off bonds using revenue from the entertainment tax.

The 3,500-seat stadium would be a multi-use facility and be shared by Clark College teams and youth organizations. There could be up to 300 events a year at the stadium, which would be built on the site of Clark’s baseball field.

Mielke said Tuesday he didn’t see why he should agree to a contract when the Bears have a July deadline.

“We’re not sure if people are going to accept this in today’s economy,” Mielke said.

The July deadline refers to when the Bears and the county have to have a detailed agreement, Potter said, and there’s a lot of work to do including public outreach and deciding key issues about financing and ownership.

Boldt tried to explain the contract to Mielke, saying that some neighbors are going to be upset no matter what the county does and the contract just, as Potter said, protects the county.

“We get blamed for everything,” Boldt said. “So we might as well do it right.”

Stuart also tried to reassure Mielke that the contract doesn’t lock the commissioners into any decisions about the fate of baseball in Vancouver.

“All it does is say, ‘You’re negotiating with us,’” Stuart said.

But Mielke was concerned after hearing from two people who raised questions about the process.

Ford, the Arnada neighborhood resident who told the commissioners they should be discussing this in the evening, told commissioners she’s not anti-baseball but she does not want to live by a stadium.

“This is threatening to us,” she told commissioners.

Shumway Neighborhood Association Chairwoman Anne McEnerny-Ogle asked commissioners what they plan to do about public outreach.

Stuart said commissioners will schedule a work session, and any vote on a new tax would require a public hearing. Stuart said other outreach efforts will have to be done in partnership with Clark College and Short Season LLC.

Commissioners did hear from a few people Tuesday in favor of bringing the Bears to Vancouver, including Eric Sawyer of Battle Ground, a youth baseball coach.

“A stadium can be what you make of it,” Sawyer said. “It’s an opportunity for Clark College to have an asset.”

That’s what the stadium would be, he said, a community asset.

Other major metropolitan areas with sports teams have ­admission taxes, he said.

“It’s the way to do it.”

Mike Bomar, executive director of the Southwest Washington Contractors Association, said he’s excited about the 450 to 500 construction jobs a new stadium would provide.

Bomar started a Facebook page, http://www.facebook.com/baseballvancouver, which has more than 1,600 fans.

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