Update: Commissioners postpone hearing on admissions tax

By Stephanie Rice, Columbian Vancouver city government reporter

Published:

Updated: September 14, 2011, 6:58 PM

 

Clark County commissioners agreed Wednesday to postpone a public hearing on an admissions tax to help pay for a minor league baseball stadium.

The hearing had been scheduled for Tuesday.

Commissioner Steve Stuart told Commissioners Marc Boldt and Tom Mielke that he’d received a request from the owners of the Yakima Bears to postpone the hearing to have more time to revamp their proposal.

The owners of the Bears have exclusive negotiating rights in the Portland-Vancouver area until Sept. 23. Stuart said the team feels confident they can show minor league baseball officials that they’ve made sufficient progress in negotiating to move the team to Vancouver to get those exclusivity rights extended.

The metropolitan area became desirable once the Portland Beavers left, opening it up as the largest in the country without a baseball team.

Stuart, the biggest backer of bringing baseball to Vancouver among local officials, said Wednesday he does not know when the public hearing will be rescheduled.

The team wants to construct a $22.7 million stadium at Clark College.

Stuart said the initial proposal of a 70-30 public-private cost split was not workable, and his proposal of a 40-30-30 split (with 30 percent coming from private investors) has not worked.

“We can move forward from that,” Stuart said. “We all feel we’ve made significant progress.”

Stuart said talks with the team are focused on how to better structure financing, find other partners and minimize construction costs.

Ron Arp, a spokesman for Short Season LLC, the owners of the Bears, said Wednesday that the team appreciates Stuart’s diligence in striving to assemble a workable financial package.

“And we are very encouraged by the county commissioners’ expressions of financial support for a multiple-use facility at last month’s workshop,” Arp said. “With that said, we all felt it would be better to allow more time to assemble and refine the necessary financial components before going through the hearing process. Any bold projects of this nature that will put our community on the map are bound to be complex and take time to develop,” Arp said.

Figuring financing

Meanwhile, pressure on the commissioners from pro-baseball members of the business community has been mounting.

Kelly Parker, president of the Greater Vancouver Chamber of Commerce, sent a letter Wednesday to county commissioners urging them to approve an admissions tax.

Parker also wrote that the current proposal, which was suggested by Stuart last month, “has not proven to be viable at this point as it does not raise sufficient revenue in the required time frame.”

The 70-30 public-private split did not pencil out because it overestimated tax revenue and presumed a low interest rate on a limited tax general obligation bond backed with the general fund.

County commissioners said in June they would not put the general fund, which is used for basic public services including law and justice, at risk should admissions tax revenue estimates fall short.

The team’s owners have agreed to arrange financing and make up the difference if revenues fall short.

Stuart said he wanted private investors to step forward and pay 30 percent of the capital costs; the public would pay 40 percent through the admissions tax and the team, which would play 38 games baseball games a year at the new stadium, would pay 30 percent. The team would also pay ongoing maintenance and operations costs.

Parker criticized the commissioners for not coming up with a more realistic alternative and expecting to fill a 30 percent funding gap in a matter of weeks.

“The commission already has several options that have been studied by its own staff that would raise the necessary revenue,” she wrote. “Yet the commission has failed to take action.”

During an Aug. 24 work session on the financing, commissioners heard a presentation from county employees who had been tasked with researching the proposal.

Senior policy analyst Axel Swanson said other minor league teams in the state play in publicly owned stadiums. Those include the Tri-Cities Dust Devils (stadium owned by the city of Pasco); the Everett Aquasox (stadium owned by the Everett School District); the Tacoma Rainiers (stadium owned by city of Tacoma); and the Spokane Indians (stadium owned by Spokane County).

If a stadium is built at Clark College, after the debt is paid the likely owner would be the college, but that would have to be worked out with the state attorney general’s office.

Swanson said other revenue options aren’t feasible for one reason or another. Those include: a property tax, sales tax, lodging tax, public facilities district, gambling excise tax, real estate excise tax or parking tax.

That leaves the admissions tax, which is currently not levied by any city in the county.

Five counties and 47 cities statewide do collect an admissions tax and there are no restrictions on how revenue can be used, Swanson said.

Public benefit

Parker’s letter, which was forwarded to members of the Vancouver City Council, said the stadium would be a good public investment.

“The multiuse facility would also serve as an attractive championship facility for tournaments of multiple sports for all ages. With an estimated average tournament impact of $400,000 and a goal of 10-15 tournaments a year, the facility’s economic impact to the community will increase.”

Parker wrote that the Columbia River Economic Development Council’s “analysis quantifies the return on investment as $6.30 per public dollar invested during construction and $4.60 per public dollar invested post-construction.”

The admissions tax would add 5 percent to the cost of tickets to movies, concerts at the Sleep Country Amphitheater and the Clark County Fair.

She wrote that the Greater Vancouver Chamber of Commerce “understands the commission’s concerns about increasing taxes in this tough economy. As the lead business organization in Southwest Washington representing 1,100 businesses, GVCC is reluctant to support any tax increase. But upon review and reflection, the GVCC determines there to be ample return on investment. This is an investment in our future prosperity,” Parker wrote.

“GVCC respectfully requests that you take a stand and embrace making the tough decisions you were elected to make. We need strong leadership now more than ever before,” Parker wrote. “The team needs to know if it will be building a stadium here in Vancouver or investing its resources and moving its team to another city.”

On Tuesday, Boldt, who has supported the baseball proposal to this point, said he has concerns about the tax adversely impacting attendance at the Clark County Fair.

Mielke has said he won’t support the tax.

Identity Clark County, the CREDC and the Downtown Vancouver Association are other groups that support the baseball proposal.

The owners of the Yakima Bears said in May they wanted to move the team to Vancouver.

The Bears are a Class A affiliate of the Arizona Diamondbacks.

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. Several councilors have expressed reservations about making such a commitment.

Clark College would lease the land for the stadium, which would be built east of Interstate 5 on the site of the school’s current baseball field, for free and provide parking. In exchange, the school would use the stadium, as could the public.

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