County advances baseball proposal, sets hearing on admissions tax

By Stephanie Rice, Columbian Vancouver city government reporter

Published:

Updated: September 1, 2011, 7:23 PM

 

Clark County will have a public hearing on a countywide admissions tax, a confirmation that a proposal to bring the Yakima Bears to Vancouver keeps moving forward.

The hearing will be part of the commissioners’ regular weekly meeting, 10 a.m. Tuesday, Sept. 20, at the Clark County Public Service Center, 1300 Franklin St.

Mike Thiessen, project manager for Short Season LLC, the company that owns the Class A Yakima Bears, was disappointed after an Aug. 24 work session on financing the proposal because commissioners did not set a public hearing on the admissions tax.

Thiessen and co-owner K.L. Wombacher met with Commissioner Steve Stuart and Bronson Potter, the county’s chief civil deputy prosecutor, in a private meeting Thursday.

Both Stuart and Potter said “substantial progress is being made” in securing a deal to move the Bears into a new stadium at Clark College.

Potter said that, by law, the county has to give at least 10 days’ notice of a public hearing. The county will issue a public notice about the hearing next week, and a draft of the proposed admissions tax will be available for review 10 days before the Sept. 20 hearing.

During the Aug. 24 work session, commissioners rejected a proposal by the team to have a 70-30 public-private split on a $22.7 million stadium.

Stuart proposed that the public — because the stadium would be available for public use such as youth sports 40 percent of the time — would pay 40 percent of capital costs through an admissions tax.

Short Season LLC has committed to arranging the financing, paying 30 percent of capital costs and paying $400,000 a year in maintenance and operation costs.

Clark College, which would use the 4,000-seat stadium for its baseball, softball and soccer teams, would lease the land for free and provide parking. Clark College President Bob Knight made it clear last week that the neither the school nor its foundation would put money toward capital costs.

Stuart’s proposal currently has a 30 percent funding gap. He said that “good conversations” have been taking place since he proposed the 40-30-30 split, but said Thursday he was not ready to name any potential investors.

The Bears, an affiliate of the Arizona Diamondbacks, have exclusive negotiating rights in the Portland-Vancouver metro area for approximately three more weeks.

To extend that right, the team would have to show minor league baseball that serious progress is being made in negotiating with Clark County. If the commissioners approve an admissions tax, that could be sufficient.

Other cities, including Milwaukie, Ore., have expressed interest in getting a team.

The metro area is the largest in the country without a professional baseball team.

Under Stuart’s proposal, a 5 percent admissions tax would only be levied at major movie theater complexes (single-screen theaters would be exempt), the new stadium, the Clark County Fair and concerts at the Sleep Country Amphitheater.

Earlier admissions tax revenue estimates had included Washougal Motocross, public golf courses and other events, such as Vancouver Volcanoes games.

Commissioner Marc Boldt earlier said he wouldn’t support taxing the fair to support a baseball stadium, but under Stuart’s proposal revenues for the first five years would go back to the jurisdictions.

For the county, the revenues those first five years would go into the county’s fair fund — which pays for the fair but also the Clark County Event Center and the horse arena — which has been on the brink of needing a boost from the county’s general fund.

Stuart said his plan would provide a short-term boost to the city of Vancouver, giving the city more than $600,000 a year for five years to put toward public services.

For the next 20 years, tax revenues, up to $800,000 a year, would be dedicated to paying off stadium debt. If collections fall short, the team or other investors would have to make up the difference. If collections exceed $800,000, the additional revenue would be returned to the jurisdictions.

Commissioner Tom Mielke does not support imposing a new tax without a public vote.

If Stuart and Boldt approve the admissions tax, it would not go into effect until after Jan. 1, 2012, Stuart said. That would give the county time to develop detailed agreements with its partners.

A key partner will be the Vancouver City Council. The council would have to agree that, after five years, admissions tax revenues will be dedicated to paying off stadium debt. Also, the council has to agree that, for the life of the stadium debt, if the city enacts its own admissions tax, overriding the county’s admissions tax, the city must pay off the stadium debt from another source.

Vancouver Mayor Tim Leavitt said Thursday that the city council has not discussed Stuart’s proposal. He said he expects the council will have a workshop on the subject.