Boldt balks: Baseball proposal dies at county's hands

Failure to vote on admissions tax kills effort

By Stephanie Rice, Columbian Vancouver city government reporter

Published:

Updated: November 29, 2011, 7:23 PM

 

In an unexpected move, Clark County commissioners did not approve a proposed 5 percent admissions tax to help bring professional baseball to Vancouver, killing the effort.

Clark County Commissioner Marc Boldt, the swing vote on the board, had earlier said he liked changes that had been made to the financing proposal. Under the proposal, the owners of the Yakima Bears would have secured bonds to build a $19.5 million stadium at Clark College. The majority of the money would have come from admission tax revenues.

But Tuesday, after two hours of public comment, Boldt said he could not bring himself to support a proposal when there are too many unknowns. He started by saying that the stadium could be a “huge benefit” for the community, but then added the proposal did not have the support of a majority of the Vancouver City Council.

Had commissioners approved the tax, the council would have needed to approve an interlocal agreement. The agreement would have secured funding even in the event the city enacted its own admissions tax.

Boldt said five members of the council recently contacted him separately and told him they would never sign the agreement.

“Right now, I am sorry, I can’t support it,” Boldt said.

Boldt didn’t name the members, but Councilors Jack Burkman, Larry Smith, Bart Hansen, Jeanne Stewart and Pat Campbell all confirmed to The Columbian that they would not support the interlocal agreement.

After the meeting, Boldt said he was disappointed that the city councilors had kept quiet and let the proposal go on if they knew they would kill it.

Boldt, who did say he thought the most recent proposal was a big improvement, said the biggest factor in his decision was the unfairness of making moviegoers — movie theaters would have accounted for an estimated 53 percent of the tax revenues — pay for baseball.

Commissioner Steve Stuart, who spoke first among commissioners, called the project one of many essential steps the county needs to be doing to attract business development.

Of 41 members of the public who testified, 21 were in favor of the tax in order to support the baseball proposal. Of the 20 people who told commissioners to reject the tax, many said the public should not be helping pay for a private enterprise.

“Now is the time to be big and bold,” Stuart said. “If you are not willing to invest in your community, who will?”

After Boldt finished, Chairman Tom Mielke, who never supported the proposed tax, listed his concerns.

Since it was clear by then that Stuart would not have a second vote but procedure dictated that something had to be done, he made a motion to approve the ordinance. The motion died because neither Boldt nor Mielke would second the motion.

Stuart abruptly left the hearing room.

Baseball backers said they were surprised by Boldt.

“It’s extremely disappointing,” said Scott Horenstein, chairman of the board of Identity Clark County.

Paul Montague, executive director of the ICC, agreed.

“This is a huge loss of a great economic opportunity for our community,” Montague said. “I am very disappointed that Commissioner Boldt didn’t have the long-term vision to see the value of this opportunity.”

In addition to ICC, the Greater Vancouver Chamber of Commerce, the Columbia River Economic Development Council and the Vancouver’s Downtown Association were all in favor of the baseball proposal.

Tuesday’s nonvote marked the end of an 11-month effort to bring pro baseball to Vancouver.

K.L. Wombacher and Mike and Laura McMurray of Short Season LLC, the owners of the Bears, said publicly in May they wanted to move the Class A team to Vancouver to fill the opening in the Portland-Vancouver market created by the departure of the Portland Beavers. Talk with community leaders began quietly in January.

The market is the largest metro area in the nation without any level of professional baseball. Mike Theissen, who had been hired by the Bears to negotiate the deal with Clark County, said after the meeting that Plan B does not involve Vancouver or Clark County.

Milwaukie, Ore., has expressed interest in having a team.

Under the proposal, a 3,500-seat stadium would have been built at Clark College. A 5 percent tax would have been levied on movie theaters (with the exception of those on a historic register, such as Kiggins), golf courses, the Clark County Fair and the Sleep Country Amphitheater and the stadium.

The tax would have ended after 25 years.

Proponents stressed that the stadium would be a multi-use facility and the team would use it only 13 percent of the time. Clark College teams would have used the stadium 33 percent of the time; it would also have been used for high school events, youth activities and community events.

Opponents said commissioners should not approve a new tax that would not be going to pay for basic public services such as police and fire safety. They questioned the revenue estimates and said that if the proposal is as wonderful as proponents made it out to be, there should be no shortage of private investors.

“It’s the wrong tax, wrong time, wrong project,” said Temple Lentz of Vancouver.

Lentz was campaign manager for Vancouver Mayor Tim Leavitt, a supporter of the project. Leavitt was one of 14 baseball backers who had signed off on a Nov. 4 letter to Northwest League President Bob Richmond describing the funding proposal.

“I think a tremendous opportunity for our community was lost today,” Leavitt said.

Tuesday was not the first time a proposal to bring professional baseball struck out in Vancouver. A proposal to relocate a team from Medford, Ore., fell apart more than a decade ago.

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