UPDATE: Boldt hints at support for admissions tax

As key county commissioner warms to the idea, revised plan may be in the ballpark




A proposed admissions tax appears to have been crafted to not just finance a baseball stadium at Clark College, but to win over those who have yet to endorse the idea — including the swing vote on the Board of Clark County Commissioners.

Clark County released a copy of the proposed ordinance Friday.

A 5 percent tax would be levied on movie theaters, Sleep Country Amphitheater, the Clark County Fair, professional baseball games and public and private golf courses. Aside from the addition of golf courses, other significant changes have been made from the ordinance that fell flat this summer.

Notably, now some of the revenues would go toward the county’s fair fund and the city of Vancouver, not just the stadium. And the tax has an expiration date: It would end in 25 years.

Clark County Commissioner Marc Boldt, who said earlier he had not been willing to bring the admissions tax to a public hearing unless the Clark County Fair would be protected, said the changes made a difference.

“This proposed ordinance seems to address both of my issues,” Boldt said. “It keeps the fair whole, and that eases pressure on the county general fund. Also, patrons would see the admissions tax end after 25 years, so the sunset clause was important for the long term.”

And for the members of the Vancouver City Council who have been opposed to the tax, there’s a carrot worth $8.2 million.

That’s how much money the city would be projected to receive over the life of the tax.

The tax, a key revenue source in a plan to build a $19.5 million stadium to bring the Yakima Bears to Vancouver, will be the subject of a public hearing.

The hearing will be 10 a.m. Tuesday, Nov. 29 at the Clark County Public Service Center, 1300 Franklin St.

The admissions tax is expected to generate $35.9 million over 25 years. Of that, $20 million would be earmarked for the stadium, with annual payments of $800,000.

Vancouver would get $8.2 million; the remainder would go to a stadium reserve fund (an estimated $2.5 million) and the fairgrounds (a projected $5.2 million.)

The Clark County Fair Board said it was “cautiously supportive” of the proposal because the fair would get back at least the admissions tax revenue that it generates. Fair ticket prices would not be raised because of the tax. Sharon Crouch, chairwoman of the fair board, said in a memo to commissioners that under the new proposal, the fair board would no longer seek an exemption from the tax.

‘Broad support’

In May, the owners of the Class A Yakima Bears said they wanted to move the team to a new stadium at Clark College, but a proposed 70/30 public/private split was rejected.

Clark County Commissioner Steve Stuart, one of the biggest baseball backers among local officials, said reducing the cost of the stadium by $3.5 million helped make the project work.

Commissioner Tom Mielke has said he does not support the tax, so Stuart needs Boldt’s vote before the tax plan can move forward.

If approved by commissioners, the tax would still be contingent on the Vancouver City Council’s approval, and the Northwest League will have to approve the Bears’ move.

A Nov. 4 letter to Northwest League President Bob Richmond describing the funding proposal was signed by 14 baseball backers, including Vancouver Mayor Tim Leavitt; former Vancouver Mayor Royce Pollard; Stuart; Rhona Sen Hoss, chairwoman of the Clark College Trustees; Eric Fuller, chairman of the Columbia River Economic Development Council; and Scott Horenstein, president of the Identity Clark County board of directors.

“With the full faith and support of the undersigned, this letter clearly demonstrates a broad base of community and business support for this project,” reads the letter.

The Bears would play 38 home games a year; Clark College teams would also use the 3,500-seat stadium.

Proponents refer to it as a multi-use stadium to stress that it could have other public uses.

“The basis of our multi-purpose project includes the use of Clark College land and parking, the passing of an admissions fee, and the rebate of a number of different taxes and participation from the team to complete the financing of the project,” the letter reads. “Additionally, the Clark College Foundation will be participating in several different ways; thereby ensuring the success of the project.”

According to a breakdown of $19.5 million in capital costs, the admissions tax would cover $11.8 million, the team would pay $4 million and the Clark College Foundation would pledge $3.5 million.

On Tuesday, Lisa Gibert, executive director of the foundation, said that up to $3.5 million in future donations would be invested in the stadium. In return, Short Season LLC, the owners of the Yakima Bears, would give the foundation a 3 percent return that would be used annually for athletic scholarships.

The breakdown of costs factored in a $225,000 sales tax construction rebate.

In response to the letter from baseball backers, Richmond wrote: “In regards to the ‘previously submitted financing and development plan’ which you refer to, it appears to have a great deal of potential. Please note, that any proposed lease agreement and financial commitments of a franchise desiring to relocate to the Vancouver area would have to be approved by the Directors of the League before such an agreement is finalized. Nothing in this regard has been presented to the Directors.

“As I stated to you earlier, the NWL is very interested in the Vancouver market as a site for one of our franchises. I am optimistic that a NWL franchise could be relocated to the Vancouver area, assuming that the lease and capital requirements for that franchise are acceptable to the League. Given the potential of this project, I would recommend your moving forward with the public financing component. Our league will discuss this in great detail at the winter meetings. There are numerous other details to be worked out, but this component is a most significant one,” Richmond wrote.

If commissioners approve the tax, the Vancouver City Council will have to agree that, for the life of the stadium debt, it will pay a portion of the debt even if a future city council decides to enact a citywide admissions tax for some other purpose.

If everyone approves the project, construction would begin in 2012. The stadium would be east of Interstate 5 and west of Fort Vancouver Way, and the Bears, an affiliate of the Arizona Diamondbacks, would debut in 2013.

Clark College (a state institution) and the team have not finalized the details of stadium ownership. They’ve discussed a 20-year lease to the team, after which the state would take ownership.

The team, however, lost its negotiating rights Sept. 23 after the league refused to grant an extension because the team had failed to show adequate support from Clark County. So co-owners Mike and Laura McMurray and K.L. Wombacher have not been participating in the latest round of talks.

Stephanie Rice: http://www.facebook.com/reporterrice; http://twitter.com/col_clarkgov; stephanie.rice@columbian.com.