Canzano: MLB to PDX back in batter's box
Portland Diamond Project prepares $50 million land offer to City of Portland.
Major League Baseball was the topic of conversation at City Hall in a closed-door meeting on Friday. Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler and his staff spoke with leaders of the Portland Diamond Project.
Where to play baseball.
The MLB to PDX project has zeroed in on a $50 million land purchase in the Portland metropolitan area — the RedTail Golf Course. The result would be a 164-acre stadium site that would be the biggest land development in MLB history.
Said Craig Cheek: “We’re not playing small ball — it’s time to go.”
Cheek, a former Nike executive, is the founder and president of the Portland Diamond Project. He declined to go into specifics but confirmed the focus has pivoted from the Lloyd Center to a much bigger piece of property also owned by the City of Portland.
It’s not the first pivot by the MLB group. It spent almost a year weighing whether it was feasible for a ballpark to be part of the mayor’s revitalization project at Lloyd Center Mall. It also explored a variety of urban land options including one owned by Portland Public Schools. And PDP tied up $1 million in a waterfront Terminal 2 property before deciding it just wouldn’t work.
A loss for Wheeler, who championed the Lloyd Center plan?
From my view, he’s an outgoing mayor who still has a chance to ride into the sunset with a legacy victory amid an embattled tenure. And his beat-up city — Portland — still gets an image boost.
The seeds for MLB to PDX were planted and watered on Wheeler’s watch. Wheeler has a backup plan for the mall property, per sources. Also, the baseball pivot gets the mayor off the hook with critics who might view the Lloyd Center ballpark as a case of city leaders prioritizing sports over homelessness, drugs, crime, and mental health.
In baseball (and political) terms, that’s a sweep.
Lloyd Center wasn’t going to work with the timeline or be impressive enough to ‘wow’ MLB officials. The property is only 27.1 acres and remains tied up by a variety of leases and contracts that make it tricky to obtain in a timely fashion. Also, a pro-MLB effort in Salt Lake City — “Big League Utah” — has evolved rapidly and is busy making a louder, more sophisticated pitch to Commissioner Rob Manfred.
The group recently hosted A’s officials for a tour. Salt Lake City is hoping to host the MLB franchise while its new stadium in Las Vegas is being built. The group even erected a series of billboards in the region, trumpeting its support.
The history of the RedTail property is an interesting story. In the 1950s, city leaders were looking to move and expand the zoo that sat in Washington Park. The property to the west — what was then called Hoyt Park — featured a golf course.
A trade was struck.
The zoo expanded into Hoyt Park and became what we now know as the Oregon Zoo. The public golf course packed up and moved to the RedTail property, where it now operates. The land is owned by the City of Portland but was annexed to Beaverton in 2003. It lies in Washington County, adjacent to Tigard.
“We believe this is the culmination of six years of blood, sweat, and tears,” Cheek told me.
Appraisals have been completed, I’m told. Developers have been consulted. City leaders in Beaverton and Tigard have had positive discussions with the MLB to PDX group. The Portland Diamond Project is expected to present a written offer to purchase the property. After that, a vote by the mayor and four city commissioners.
Would someone attempt to politicize the deal?
Of course. It’s Portland, after all. But the stronger statement to MLB would be a unified front. City officials must know that visitors would sleep in downtown hotels and eat in Portland restaurants. The stadium would create jobs and generate tax revenue for the region. Also, the purchase amounts to a $50 million infusion for a cash-strapped city.
Essentially, Portland would reap all the benefits of a ballpark positioned on the edge of its footprint without hundreds of millions in investment. A letter on Portland Diamond Project letterhead was sent to City Hall this week. It was signed by 13 individuals, including Cheek, managing partner Mike Barrett, and other interested parties including the heads of a variety of construction firms, design agencies, and real estate developers.
A section of the letter read:
“MLB will only be adding two teams. Several other groups/cities have put together comprehensive proposals to attract the attention of baseball's expansion committee. We believe the RedTail site would put us in the best possible position to win the support of the committee.”
Truist Park in Atlanta is a solid comparison. It’s located 10 miles northwest of downtown Atlanta in an unincorporated community in Cobb County. Fans visit, stay downtown, see the sights, and catch a game at the ballpark, but nobody calls them the Cobb County Braves. They belong to the metropolitan area.
I don’t know if MLB is going to come to Portland. But I do know that baseball wasn’t coming with Lloyd Center as the site. It was small, expensive, and mired in red tape and politics. The RedTail stadium site gives the effort something competing cities can’t easily match — an MLB development unlike anything ever created.
It was time for Cheek’s group to act. I don’t blame you if you’d given up on professional baseball coming to Portland. The group looked sleepy. It sat quietly for too long. But emerging from that coma with a 164-acre plan is an ambitious swing, isn’t it?
One MLB won’t be able to ignore.
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