The Yakima Bears (short season A; Northwest League) will be relocating to Hillsboro (OR), as the city approved an offer sheet that calls for a new $15.2-million ballpark for the 2013 season.
Hillsboro and Milwaukie had been engaged in a race of sorts to bring affiliated baseball back to the greater Portland area. The Bears ownership had also made it pretty clear a move was in the cards, first negotiating with Clark County for a new ballpark (an effort that failed because county commissioners refused to approved an entertainment tax to partially fund a new ballpark).
The Clark County setback, though, may have been the best thing to happen to the Bears ownership in recent years. In Clark County, the team would have put up part of the construction cost of a new ballpark while also paying rent. The offer sheet between the team and Hillsboro, however, doesn’t call for any team contribution for construction costs; the team will only pay $150,000 annually in rent, rising by 3 percent annually for the 20-year term. The team will retain all ballpark revenue, with the city keeping parking revenue and a $1 ticket surcharge. Hillsboro will keep 70 percent of any naming-rights revenue, with the team keeping 30 percent. The city will issue bonds to pay for the new facility; in an unusual move these days, city general funds could be invoked to pay off bonds should rent, parking and ticket revenue not be enough to cover debt. (This seems likely: if the team draws 180,000 fans annually and the city makes an average naming-rights deal, ballpark revenues should total $855,000 or so annually.) The $15.2 million figure discussed here is the total cost of the project, including bonding costs. Hillsboro will manage the ballpark and retain the right to hold events there on non-game days. One more interesting clause in the agremeent: Hillsboro will be part of the team name, and the city will retain final approval for the team name.
The city did get a big head start in making this project work because the new facility will be built on city-owned land at the Gordon Faber Recreation Complex.
Groundbreaking of the ballpark is tentatively set for October, with a June 2013 opening planned. Hoffman Construction will design and build the new facility. The Bears’ lease in Yakima runs through 2015 but can be broken if the team pays a penalty. It’s likely the end of affiliated ball in Yakima: the team averaged just 1,751 fans per game last season, and with the city balking on any ballpark improvements to what’s considered to be a very basic facility, it’s doubtful any other Northwest League team will seek a move there. On the other hand, 1,751 fans a game is a pretty good number for the summer-collegiate West Coast League.
It remains to be seen whether the move of the Bears will preclude another Northwest League team moving to the Portland area — specifically, Milwaukie, where officials say they’ll move ahead with planning for a new ballpark. Technically, there are territorial issues both with the Bears and the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes, but there’s some distinct sentiment toward placing a second NWL team in the Portland area: NWL President Bob Richmond, for instance, has been quoted as saying the issue is worthy of further study. The agreement between Hillsboro and the Bears anticipates such a move: the city asked for and received 30 percent of any relocation fees related to another team moving into the territory.
Rendering of a proposed Hillsboro ballpark.
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