In Our View: Play Ball! But in Hillsboro

Big differences in stadium proposals there, and last year in Clark County



So Hillsboro, Ore., gets our baseball team, eh? That’s probably the attitude of many local baseball fans who supported Clark County’s efforts last year to lure the Yakima Bears minor-league team to a stadium that would’ve been built near Clark College.We say “would’ve” because those efforts died in late November when the proposal — led by County Commissioner Steve Stuart — failed to draw support from Stuart’s fellow commissioners. Seven months later, Hillsboro stepped up to the plate when the city council there agreed to finance a stadium without imposing a tax. That dreaded “t” word killed the deal here. Stuart and others (including The Columbian in an editorial) supported a plan to impose an admissions tax that would’ve helped meet the public obligation to pay for the stadium.

Hillsboro, by contrast, will issue bonds to finance the construction of its stadium.

In retrospect, although a few hard feelings persist over last year’s debate, we believe exploring the idea of bringing a minor-league team to our community was a beneficial exercise. It takes a combination of civic pride and vision to believe Clark County can be the home of professional baseball. Strengthening that belief was the fact that Vancouver-Portland is — or was — the largest metropolitan area in the nation without pro baseball.

And we congratulate Hillsboro — albeit a bit begrudgingly — for getting the baseball team that should’ve been ours. We suspect many Clark County baseball fans will attend the games less than 30 miles away, perhaps spending time between innings dreaming of what might’ve been in Vancouver.

Understanding how and why this happened depends on one’s willingness to study the differences in the Clark County and Hillsboro proposals:

Hillsboro needed just one jurisdiction’s approval: the city’s. Here, Stuart and others needed support from the Vancouver City Council. They never got it.

Whereas Hillsboro deftly avoided the “t” word by deciding to issue bonds to finance stadium construction, Stuart said that approach was studied here and abandoned. “The core principle we started with was, ‘No risk to the general fund,'” Stuart said in a Sunday Columbian story. “I thought (minor-league baseball) was a great investment. At the same time, we weren’t willing to take on the risk of threatening core services because, at the end of the day, that’s priority number one.” And the commissioners’ devotion to that principle is understandable.

Why, then, did Hillsboro go against that principle? Because the city carries debt only on the Hillsboro Civic Center, which opened in 2005. Clark County’s debt includes the Public Service Center, the Center for Community Health, the exhibition hall at the Clark County Event Center at the Fairgrounds, Tri-Mountain Golf Course and energy conservation projects. Big difference.

Another difference: Hillsboro’s new stadium will be at a large, widely-used recreational complex with existing infrastructure, lowering the cost of the stadium to between $13.4 million and $15.2 million. Here, the projected cost was about $23 million.

Although last year’s hopes for bringing a minor-league team here never materialized, local residents and elected leaders should remain open to ways to enhance our community. After all, open and innovative minds helped build our quality of life to the high level it maintains today.

Last year, many people never even wanted to have the discussion. That’s not the way great communities become even better.