Tuesday, March 10, 2009

MLS in Portland: Now or Never

A deal has been struck between Merritt Paulson and the city to bring MLS to Portland that addresses all of the community task force's concerns and protects the city against downside risk.  Portland is unlikely to ever have such a deep pocketed, committed investor in sports in the city again.  And it is virtually certain the chance to land MLS will not come around again. It is also pretty much a lock that the city will be awarded a franchise if the city approves the deal. Given the willingness of Merritt Paulson to take on almost all of the risk of the deal, the city should go forward with the deal to bring MLS to Portland.  

The only objection left seems to be the use of urban renewal district money to help fund the projects.  This is a small risk: if these projects do not increase the value of those districts, then this deal will end up being a net diversion of some funds.  However, given the plan now includes a Rose Quarter ballpark, the chance that the deal will substantially increase the value of the that district is very high, especially with the Blazers investing in the area as well.  Though it is unlikely that areas around PGE Park will yield much net revenue, the Rose Quarter drawing thousands of baseball fans all summer long, should provide year-round stability.  And as I have said before, the logic of urban renewal districts has nothing specifically to do with blight, any investment that increases the value of surrounding properties qualifies.  Blighted areas have a greater potential for increased values if the specific investments work, but also include greater risk as the tipping point is farther away.  So, as a whole the deal should provide a lot of positive tangible and intangible benefits to Portland with very little cost and almost no risk.  

Though city councilors suggest the timing is bad given the state of the city budget, I actually think the timing could not be better.  With unemployment rising rapidly and commodities prices at historic lows, the cost of construction should be at a low point, and money borrowed to fund construction projects will stimulate the local economy at a time when we desperately need it and when federal stimulus is not going to do the whole job.  

There are times, and this is one of them, that city leaders need to shed their focus on the day to day business of the city and think about the long-term vitality and livability of the city.  Pioneer Square was a stupid idea - a massive diversion of potential city tax revenue that could have funded schools, essential services, etc.  But looking back it is now seen as a watershed moment in the city's history.  A pivotal decision that created a focal point and revitalized the downtown core.  And even it has had substantial problems.  It took a number of failed businesses before Starbucks became a solid tenant in the restaurant (this was not the original idea) and the former Powell's Travel Bookstore space has been equally problematic.   But would anyone seriously suggest today that the square was a mistake?  Economists understand that we live in a world characterized by scarcity but the fundamental lesson of economic growth is that it takes investment in the future to ensure our prosperity.  Investments necessitate short-term sacrifice for long-term gain.  In this case, thanks to Paulson, the sacrifice is minimal for the city (though large for Mr. Paulson) but the potential gain is huge.  

The city should not look this gift horse in the mouth and made the bold decision to move the city forward even in these difficult times and approve this deal.

1 comment:

Torrid said...

THANK YOU. I was definitely skeptical at first, but Leonard drove an excellent bargain for the City. Other owners have contributed far more in up front costs, but you rarely see such a comprehensive assumption of risks. Assuming there aren't Paulson shenanigans, or Randy and Sam not getting it down in writing and detail (eg, what specific instruments or funding will cover that risk), this is a rare sweetheart deal for a municipality in talks with a sports owner.