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News / Clark County News

Leonard takes one more swing for Portland Beavers

Portland city commissioner has plan for ballclub

By Brian T. Smith
Published: August 4, 2010, 12:00am

Randy Leonard wants to give Minor League Baseball in Portland one last at bat.

The city commissioner told The Columbian on Tuesday that he believes the Beavers have a chance to remain in Portland, and still regards land occupied by Memorial Coliseum as an ideal location for a new stadium.

The Triple-A baseball team is set to vacate PGE Park and leave the city in early September, following the end of the 2010 season. Beavers owner Merritt Paulson informed The Columbian on July 16 that he will likely sell the franchise once the 2010 season is complete.

As a result, Leonard said he re-proposed an idea last week to Portland’s City Council about tearing down the Coliseum and building a new, state-of-the-art facility for the Beavers.

Leonard’s vision for the venue mirrors one recently described by Paulson: An open-air ballpark located near the waterfront in downtown Portland, surrounded by restaurants and community-oriented businesses. The 7,000-10,000 seat stadium would complement the Rose Quarter, and provide almost year-round sports entertainment when paired with the NBA’s Portland Trail Blazers.

“I applaud Randy Leonard’s unwavering commitment to keeping baseball in Portland,” Paulson said Tuesday. “He has been a staunch supporter of our efforts all the way through this process.”

But Leonard said that the idea and a possible Beavers-saving yes vote from the five-member council are being postponed as the council caters to those in the local architecture community who want to preserve the 49-year-old multipurpose facility.

The glass-walled Coliseum, which serves as a co-home venue for the Western Hockey League’s Portland Winterhawks, is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

Leonard also challenged the will of the council, questioning whether four members that include Portland Mayor Sam Adams have the desire to make a final stand.

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Leonard is a council member, and at least three assenting votes are required to move the proposal forward.

“It’s getting down to the wire,” Leonard said. “And what it takes is just the will of two more council members to stand up to the raging architects.”

He added: “I’m just flummoxed that the council would be persuaded by that lobbying effort. It’s the least persuasive lobbying effort I’ve been subjected to in 20 years of politics.”

A spokeswoman for city commissioner Amanda Fritz said the council member had no comment. An effort to reach commissioner Nick Fish was unsuccessful, while messages left for Adams and commissioner Dan Saltzman were not returned Tuesday.

Leonard said he was initially frustrated when Adams began a year-long process requesting ideas about the best way to utilize and update the Coliseum. But after narrowing down competitors to three finalists, including a joint venture between the Blazers and Winterhawks, the proposed renovation was put on hold — an occurrence that Leonard said now aids Paulson’s efforts to keep the team in Portland.

“The Coliseum is arguably a better site today than it was then, because of all the pushback,” Leonard said. “Sam went through a public process to try to identify a better use for the Coliseum. And the reason it fell apart is there is no good use for the Coliseum. The only thing that’s changed is, more people now know that it’s not an economically viable venue.”

In addition, Leonard said the Coliseum is a “horrible” memorial for military veterans, adding that the people the venue is supposed to pay tribute to recently had the same realization.

“The veterans actually got to that place when we were having our discussions, and agreed that if we build an appropriate memorial for them somewhere in the Rose Quarter, they could support taking down the Coliseum,” Leonard said.

The commissioner acknowledged that he is not a sports fan, and has even been questioned by his children why some in the region now view him as a baseball supporter. But Leonard said he is more concerned with what he perceives as a major missed opportunity for a regional community that includes Portland, Vancouver, Clark County, Washington County and Clackamas County.

“I do have a political antenna. And I see what’s coming. And it’s inevitable,” Leonard said. “People haven’t focused in on the council actually not doing everything it can to keep the Beavers here, and there will be a lot of very, very angry people in the community. And not just Beavers fans — people like myself that consider the Beavers part of the backdrop of what it is that makes Portland.”

Leonard said that if he had the ability to push the proposal through, he would immediately file a resolution that would be discussed next week. But he stressed that a fast-shrinking timeline surrounding the Beavers’ move and expected sale is not the main factor hindering the process. To Leonard, it is the inaction of his fellow council members and the wide-ranging repercussions that will be felt for years to come that are stoking his frustration.

“If we did everything we could and we were dealing with an owner that was uncompromising and was putting us into a corner, that’s one thing,” Leonard said. “This is an entirely differently set of circumstances. I like everybody I work with and I work well with them. But they haven’t — to abuse a phrase — stepped to the plate on this one and done everything to keep the Beavers here before we roll over and say, ‘OK. I guess it wasn’t meant to be.’ ”