Pro baseball team contemplates new home in Lents

It’s possible you could be seeing the Portland Beavers play at Lents Park? See who’s behind the idea and how it might a reality …

Greg Peden tells an audience of Rotarians why the plans of Portland Timbers owner, Merritt Paulson, to gain a Major League Soccer franchise here could result in his AAA baseball team, the Portland Beavers, moving to a new baseball stadium in Lents.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
In the not-too-distant future, when you hear the umpire cry, “Play ball!” followed by the crack of a bat hitting a baseball – it may not be city league teams playing at Charles Walker Stadium in Lents Park on SE 92nd Avenue at Holgate Boulevard – it could be Portland’s AAA minor-league Portland Beavers.

That’s the picture painted by Greg Peden, of Gallatin Public Affairs, who represents Henry Merritt Paulson III – owner of the Portland Timbers professional soccer team and the Portland Beavers minor league baseball team. Peden spoke at the SE Portland Club Rotary meeting on July 14.

Paulson is the son of Henry Paulson, the U.S. Secretary of the Treasury; he moved here in 2006 to buy and operate the Beavers and the Portland Timbers minor league soccer team.

Pro soccer franchise sought
Paulson plans to bring Major League Soccer to Portland within the next two years, Peden explained. “Major League Soccer (MLS) currently has 16 teams around the country and is expanding to 18.  Professional Soccer is booming in the US right now – both Philadelphia and Seattle have acquired teams in the last 12 months. Seattle sold 12,000 season tickets within 6 months after acquiring their team.”

If Paulson gets the franchise, MLS would require upgrades to PGE Park, Peden told the group – and those upgrades would require the Beavers baseball team to find a new home. Because of seating changes, PGE Park would become a soccer-specific stadium; making it impossible to share the venue with the baseball team, although PSU football could still take place there.

Peden says whether or not the neighborhood gets behind the idea of a minor league baseball stadium in Lents will be a deciding factor.

Seeking new ball park location
“We have identified two locations in the city that would work for a new minor league baseball stadium with about 8,000 seats,” revealed Peden.

Port of Portland’s “Terminal 1”, off Naito Parkway on the west side of the Willamette River, is one proposed location for the new ballpark. No longer a freight facility, it’s currently being used by the City as an industrial staging area for the Big Pipe program.

“Overlooking the Willamette River, this could be an attractive location,” Peden said. “However, it is an industrial area, and there transportation access issues.”

Top choice: Lents Park
The ball club’s ideal location for a new stadium would be the northeast corner of Lents Park.

“To put it into perspective, Charles Walker Stadium [now on the site] has a capacity of 1,000 fans,” Peden explained. “We propose building a stadium with seating for 8,000 to 9,000 people. It may seem large, but it’s much smaller than Seattle’s Safeco Field, where the Mariners offer 40,000 seats.”

The ball club’s spokesman said there are challenges at Lents Park – namely, finding 1,500 on-site parking spaces. However, with the new MAX light rail station mere blocks away, access may not be a major issue, and the team would explore arranging to use some parking areas at nearby Eastport Plaza.

“The park will have a positive economic impact on the area,” Peden continued. “If we find the majority of people in the Lents community were opposed to the idea, we wouldn’t try to shoe-horn it in. But so far the response has been very positive.”

Although the 1,000-seat Charles Walker Stadium in Lents Park on SE 92nd Avenue at Holgate Boulevard is used daily during the season, few fans fill the bleachers.

Neighbor’s views
The Lents Neighborhood Association hasn’t yet taken a stand, said its Chair, Dewey Akers. “We’re forming a committee to discuss the issue.”

Long-time Lents-area booster, and president of the 82nd Ave. of Roses Business Association, Ken Turner, said he personally endorses the idea.

“Aside from my life-long passion for baseball,” Turner said, “I see the possibility of the Portland Beavers into the area as a positive move for redevelopment.”

Turner added that while a baseball team cannot be considered a keystone for redevelopment, he feels it will bring positive improvements to Lents by showcasing the area as a good, family-oriented neighborhood.

“I see this as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Lents to gain a major attraction. There’s a lot to be discussed; but this is an opportunity – regardless of the outcome – should be pursued.”

Could this area be the new home of the Portland Beavers? It’s depends …

Hinges on obtaining a franchise
Whether or not the Portland Beavers will move – anywhere – is contingent upon Major League Soccer approving Paulson’s application for a franchise.

“We’re looking at a three month time line for approval,” Peden said. “There is competition from owners in other cities for a major league soccer team.” If there is no soccer franchise here, then the Beavers would stay put in PGE Park.

Obtaining the soccer franchise would cost $40 million dollars, all of which Paulson is prepared to pay. But he would require some public assistance with the stadium.

At that point it would be up to the sports team owner to convince members of the Portland City Council that there is a sufficient fan base to make participating in the investment to improve PGE Park – and to build a new stadium at Lents park – worthwhile.

© 2008 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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