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News / Clark County News

UPDATE: Baseball in Vancouver by next year?

New stadium would be located at Clark College

By Stephanie Rice
Published: May 13, 2011, 12:00am
3 Photos
An artist's rendering shows the professional baseball stadium proposed at Clark College.
An artist's rendering shows the professional baseball stadium proposed at Clark College. It would be used by collegiate and other teams, too. Photo Gallery

Owners of the Yakima Bears, a Class A affiliate of the Arizona Diamondbacks, want to move the team to Vancouver.

The proposal was announced publicly Friday at the Clark College baseball field, where owners of the Bears want to build a 3,500 seat stadium that would also be used by Clark College teams and community squads.

The announcement came after nearly six months of informal discussions between owners and their advisors and local elected officials, business owners and baseball coaches to test whether baseball would be welcomed.

“The people here have been so friendly,” said K.L. Wombacher, co-owner and -general manager of the Bears.

Baseball backer Arch Miller, founder of the Vancouver’s International Air and Hospitality Academy, passed out hats with a “Friends of Baseball” logo and recalled an effort to bring a minor league team to Vancouver more than a decade ago.

That proposal, which was to relocate a team from Medford, Ore., fell apart, he said.

“But I didn’t give up,” Miller said.

“This is just a huge opportunity for this community. This is how communities get on the map. This is how communities grow,” Miller said.

The stadium would sit between Interstate 5 and Fort Vancouver Way, north of McLoughlin Boulevard.

Backers are optimistic that construction would start in August and the stadium would be ready for Opening Day next June.

Financing of the $23 million project would come from the team through investments and guarantees and corporate partners through naming rights and luxury boxes.

The one public financing component? County commissioners will be asked to enact an entertainment admissions fee, which would add 5 percent to the cost of a ticket to a movie or baseball game, for example.

Mike Bomar, who in March created a Facebook page (http://www.facebook.com/baseballVancouver) to drum up support for bringing a professional team to Vancouver, said he has met individually with Commissioners Steve Stuart and Marc Boldt.

He has not yet met with Commissioner Tom Mielke. But on a three-member board, only two have to vote yes.

“The commissioners are very supportive of this project,” said Bomar, executive director of the Southwest Washington Contractors Association.

Bomar said the project would create 450 to 500 construction jobs.

Bomar, who coaches at Prairie High School, played baseball at Prairie, the University of Washington and a Class A team in Eugene, Ore.

No commissioners were at the press conference, which was attended by Vancouver Mayor Tim Leavitt and councilmen Larry Smith and Jack Burkman.

A narrow tax burden

Leavitt said an important aspect of the proposal was that the owners aren’t asking for general tax revenue.

The public money would be coming from people choosing to go out. A $10 movie ticket would be $10.50, for example.

The project would not likely require the city council to have a public hearing, but county commissioners would have one on the fee.

Stuart played baseball at Prairie High School — the 40-year-old Stuart is eight years older than Bomar, so the two weren’t teammates — and Linfield College. He said Friday the next step will be for team owners to submit a formal proposal to commissioners, then have a work session before voting on the fee.

“It’s no secret that I love baseball,” Stuart said. “I think it’s fair to say that I’m supportive of bringing pro baseball to our county.”

However, “we don’t make announcements. We have public processes. We will have to review the detailed proposal in a public setting before passing judgement.”

Other jurisdictions have entertainment admissions fees, he said, but he wants to know details such as exemptions for nonprofit organizations.

Stuart likes that the stadium would be used by other teams and for community events.

“This is not simply bringing pro baseball. This is bringing a community asset,” Stuart said.

Mielke and Boldt did not return calls Friday seeking comment.

Mike Thiessen of The Madison Group in Chicago, a business that connects sports teams and communities, said the entertainment fee would bring in approximately $1 million a year.

Thiessen said Friday he’s 90 percent certain the deal will come together. The 10 percent represents what the baseball backers can’t control, which is reaction from state and local agencies.

The land would be leased from Clark College, so the group has to work with the state.

Permits will have to be approved by the city. County commissioners will have to approve the entertainment fee.

Thiessen said co-owners Mike and Laura McMurray, president and chief financial officers of Short Season LLC, are willing to put up 30 percent of the funding. Typically owners put up closer to 18 percent, said Thiessen, who has secured 13 stadiums for teams.

The team would play 38 home games in a season that would run from mid-June to Labor Day. Thiessen said they will address residents’ concerns about traffic, lights and noise.

The field would be sunk down 18 feet so light poles would not be as high, and interstate traffic would help drown out stadium noise, Thiessen said. He said plans are to keep 90 percent of the trees on the property.

The games would be played in the evening and fans would be asked to park at Clark College, which has more than 8,000 parking spaces.

The multi-purpose stadium would have all-weather turf and be used by Clark College baseball, softball and soccer teams as well as Little League and high school games.

Suze Marshall, co-chairwoman of the Arnada Neighborhood Association, said word of a stadium prompted more residents than usual to attend a neighborhood meeting on Thursday.

“There were people who were very interested in hearing more, there were some who were frightened and appalled. They are definitely paying attention,” she said.

While neighbors support businesses and mixed-use development, the stadium is daunting, she said.

Other neighbors felt as if the city had been working out a deal behind closed doors, she said.

Ron Arp, a project adviser for Identity Clark County, said neighbors won’t be left out.

The owners of the Bears didn’t receive permission from minor and major league officials to relocate until late Thursday, Arp said. At the same time, they had to make sure they’d have support in Vancouver before asking league permission to move forward with a relocation proposal.

“That’s the nature of beast,” Arp said. “It’s just not a perfect science.”

Economic benefits touted

Arp said the team is expected to generate at least $4 million in economic revenue, including 20 full-time positions and around 200 seasonal part-time positions.

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The team owners have been unhappy in Yakima, where their modest stadium does not meet league standards and attendance (approximately 1,900 people a game) puts them at the bottom of the Northwest League.

The Bears have been in Yakima since 1990.

When the Portland Beavers left the Rose City last year, it opened up the Portland area as the largest sports market with no professional baseball team.

The Bears’ owners looked at possible locations south of the Columbia River, but chose Vancouver in part because they don’t want to compete with other professional sports teams in Portland for fans and media coverage.

“This is a major upgrade from -Yakima,” Wombacher said before the press conference. “I feel like we’ve given our best effort there.”

In Vancouver, the team would hope to draw crowds of approximately 2,800 people per game.

Ticket prices would range from $5 to $15.

Other teams in the short-season

Class A Northwest League include -Boise; Eugene; Salem-Keizer; Tri-Cities-, Spokane, Everett and Vancouver, B.C.

Wombacher said he plans to move his family to Vancouver, and said the McMurrays have been looking at condominiums in downtown Vancouver.

For more information, go to http://www.a-game-on.com.

Stephanie Rice: 360-735-4508 or stephanie.rice@columbian.com.