To the surprise of no one who follows the Yakima Bears’ efforts to relocate here, such a move won’t happen in 2012 as previously targeted by owners of the minor league team. General Manager K.L. Wombacher announced last week that protracted negotiations with officials here will force the Bears to remain in Yakima for another year despite a substandard stadium that led them to consider moving in the first place.
Thus, minor league baseball could come to Vancouver no sooner than 2013. That’s not necessarily bad news. The delay provides more time for stakeholders to get this right. That list includes the Bears’ owners, supporters here, Clark County commissioners and elected officials in Vancouver and other local cities. As The Columbian has opined, this long and complicated process must be thoroughly vetted, with every possible impact examined in detail, every decision carefully researched and with abundant, open collaboration among county and city officials.
Why? Because no metropolitan area in the country deserves professional baseball more than Vancouver-Portland. With the move of Portland’s Class AAA Beavers to Arizona, this is the largest collection of communities in the country without a minor league team. That vacuum is the honey that lured the Bears here in the first place. So, it’s good that the process will continue. But we have to wonder why there hasn’t been greater support of this process by local politicians at all levels. There’s no front that suggests those who are elected to lead actually want to take a leadership role to promote this asset.
That indifference is perplexing because it runs counter to the vigorous support expressed by the Columbia River Economic Development Council, Identity Clark County, Vancouver’s Downtown Association and other groups.
We also wonder why Clark College isn’t doing more to accelerate this process. College leaders say they’d love to have the $22.7 million stadium built on their campus, and who could blame them? The college would have wide access to the facility. And they say leasing the land for free to the owners and providing parking has cut the projected costs by about $4 million. Still, a more robust effort by the college to make this deal happen would help, considering all of the potential benefits.
Meanwhile, the financial negotiations get more complicated and frustrating as days go by. The county’s most recent offer to give some local cities five years of revenue from a proposed admissions tax is a nonstarter, we believe. Concocting weird, strings-attached money trees is not only an unreliable way for governments to do business, it’s demonstrably addictive to cash-strapped and visionless municipalities. Recent evidence was when Vancouver succumbed to the offer of a federal grant for the fire department that carried unreasonable ultimatums about staffing during the life of the grant.
Remember, too, the gaping hole in the recent proposal, which suggests 40 percent of the stadium’s cost would come from the public and 30 percent from team owners. That’s a hefty private-sector contribution, but what about the missing 30 percent? Local supporters say they’ll raise it among private investors. We wish them luck.
Despite these recent complications, the worthwhile process continues. No one ever said it would be easy. One part of that process will be a public hearing on the admissions tax at 10 a.m. Sept. 20 at the Public Service Center, 1300 Franklin St.
One final note about the Bears: Last Saturday, they drew a record 3,391 fans to Yakima County Stadium for an exciting, come-from-behind victory in their season finale. Not a bad turnout for a team that wants to leave. Imagine what the team could do here. Some day — we hope — cries of “Play ball!” in our community will apply to the professional players, too.