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Milwaukie advances, Hillsboro retreats in Portland-area ballpark race

Proposed Hillsboro ballpark

In the effort to bring pro baseball back to Portland, Milwaukie will proceed with planning and Hillsboro put the brakes on its effort — and both expressed displeasure with the short-season Northwest League.

As you’ll recall, there are two efforts by Portland suburbs to bring affiliated baseball back to the market. In Milwaukie, the City Council voted to move ahead with a contract worth $300,000 to study funding and construction issues related to a new ballpark. The commitment didn’t come with a few changes and conditions: the language was changed, removing a reference to the Northwest League (meaning, one would assume, the Class AAA Pacific Coast League or the summer-collegiate West Coast League could theoretically be in play) and the council issued a warning that they were a little upset at how they were treated by pro ball:

“So we’re not limited to the league that has so far shown less enthusiasm for our project than appears warranted under the circumstances,”  said Councilor Greg Chaimov, as reported by The Oregonian’s Molly Harbarger.

One interesting factor emerges: Portland Mayor Sam Adams, who let the Portland Beavers (Class AAA; Pacific Coast League) leave, is now on record as supporting the Milwaukie ballpark proposal. Because the proposed ballpark site is near light rail, it’s seen as being more accessible for Portland residents than the Hillsboro site, accessible only via freeway and surface road.

The issue in Milwaukie: appeasing local neighbors who are wary of having a pro ballpark placed on a relatively small lot. Appeasing those neighbors where noise, parking and traffic is concerned — the big three concerns always raised when planning a new ballpark — will be the challenge.

In Hillsboro, the CIty Council indefinitely put off a decision to spend $13.4 million on a new ballpark at the Gordon Faber Recreation Complex. That plan was contingent on satisfactory negotiations with the Northwest League over bringing in a team; apparently negotiations had not gotten to the point where city officials felt comfortable spending that amount of money without a tenant assured. There are no plans to bring back the proposal, though many in the city considered a new ballpark a done deal with funding and a site already in place.

In fact, there’s been a fair amount of grumbling in both cities about the way negotiations have gone. Both cities have presented pretty damn good offers if you’re running a Northwest League team: no front-end investment asked of any franchise and only standard rents being discussed. And while one can understand why league president Bob Richmond would want to preserve all possible options, we’re talking about a situation where there’s serious support behind two ballparks serving totally different audiences in a top-25 MSA. This is one of those times where the rules in Minor League Baseball need to be examined. Would the Northwest League be better off economically with two teams in Portland and none in Pasco and Yakima? Clustering teams and reexamining outdated territorial rules — as well as business practices more in line with the 1980s than the year 2012 — should be the order of the day in St. Pete. Minor League Baseball faces a lot of issues and will probably see some governing changes in the next year, and it’s time for owners to use a situation like Portland — where two very viable ballpark projects threaten to be throttled by aloof MILB governance — to take a close look at how the game is run.

Rendering of a proposed Hillsboro ballpark.

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