As someone who led the grassroots effort to bring Major League Soccer to Portland, Oregon, and remodel our publicly owned historic stadium into a world class soccer specific stadium I read this piece with a mixture of disbelief and dismay.
As a long time progressive and fan of The Nation, I am shocked that you would publish such an article without taking the time to investigate the numerous claims put forth in their piece in regards to the deal.
Throughout the piece Zirin and Bykoff state opinion as fact and in some cases simply make stuff up. Some of the many misrepresentations and misstatements include:
1) They start the article by falsely asserting that Merritt Paulson was asking for $85 million dollars in taxpayer dollars for two stadiums. This is flatly false. The most ever proposed to construct two publicly owned stadiums was around $55 million, and even then it was bonded spectator funds and Urban Renewal District money, with nothing coming from the general fund. But that is an irrelevant point, because that is not even the deal we ended up with.
2) They completely misrepresent the deal with the city in regards to living wages at PGE Park. They ignore that the city is subsidizing those wages as a way to comply with their own living-wage ordinance it passed in 2003. It is necessary to comply with their own ordinance since it is a city owned facility. They also ignore the fact that the greatest champion of labor on the Portland City Council, Commissioner Randy Leonard, fought to keep the subsidy or that Merrit Paulson agreed to cover half the subsidy in 2011 that the city is currently paying in its entirety.
3) It appears Zirin and Bykoff have no idea how the Spectator Facilities Fund works here in Portland. It is a discrete entity funded by users of city-owned sporting facilities (mainly through ticket taxes and parking fees) and dedicated to the upkeep and improvement of these facilities. The $11 million in bonds that the fund is backing represents a tiny portion of its capacity, and in the three previous City Council hearings on this subject the City's own chief financial officer repeatedly assured councilors that MLS, the Timbers and the Beavers could go out of business tomorrow and the fund could still easily cover the payments. The general fund is protected regardless.
4) They completely ignore the fact that Merritt Paulson will pay $8 million in cash to improve a publicly owned facility and will make an upfront payment of $11.1 million for rent and ticket taxes for the years 2017 to 2033 in straight cash. As far as the zero coupon bonds go, there has been no confirmation that this is the definitive route the city is going to take. The market at the time and the status of the Spectator Facilities Fund will determine what the bonds are going to be.
5) They randomly cite stadium-naming deals for MLS stadiums without any context of what those dollars were actually used for in each of those cases. Ironically, in each of the MLS stadiums they cite, the public in those communities was on the hook for far more than it is in this deal.
6) Finally they refuse to mention once that it is a 100% publicly owned stadium. This is important, as the people of Portland have owned this stadium for nearly eighty years and it is located in the heart of the city with no parking and nearly 70 percent of park users utilizing our public transit, that literally drops you off at its door. I am sure any private investment sought to pay for the renovations would come at the expense of the city giving up a part of the ownership in the facility. After all, savvy real estate investors don't pay tens of millions of dollars to renovate a facility they don't own. I think the majority of Portlanders want to see PGE Park remain in our hands. The $11 million in bonds to transform a publicly owned stadium into a icon of soccer in America is an infinitesimal amount when compared the hundreds of billions we are spending right now as part of the economic stimulus package to build or repair our highways. I personally think if we are going to get folks back to work, why not have them repair a publicly owned icon and make it usable for the next eighty years?
As a progressive activist I know it is easy to look at the name "Paulson" and get angry and automatically assume the worst. But as a Portlander, I support this deal because it is an incredible opportunity that holds taxpayers harmless and is the right deal and the right time for our city.
Aug 11 2009 - 6:45pm