Friday, July 30, 2010

Reporter's Notebook

Paul Leonard can be reached at

Leave it to the Beavs

As a resident of Portland for more than a year, I thought by now I’d begin to understand the Rose City – including its love of light rail, of lift-bridges, the hours spent by its City Council banning plastic shopping bags.

Alas, I don’t think it was meant to be. As the Portland Beavers recently announced its search for a community able and willing to support it – in debt-ridden California, of all places – one could say I’m “stumped” over the decisions made across the Columbia River.

The reason? A storied 95-year-old baseball franchise, the sole representative of the national pastime in the county’s 25th-largest metropolitan region, seems to have been supplanted by, of all things, soccer.

Don’t get me wrong: soccer, or football as three-fourths of the globe calls it, is a grand sport. On a recent trip to Europe earlier this month, one of the highlights was watching a soccer match with hundreds of screaming fans whose connection with their teams stretched back through generations.

It was an exciting, electric experience, chiefly because for many of these football supporters, soccer wasn’t just a pastime, but an extension of self – the culmination of local, regional and national identity.

Here’s the rub for Portland, however: despite frequent comparisons to Amsterdam and Copenhagen, Stumptown is still a fundamentally-American city – one which has had considerable difficulty filling the seats at a stadium devoted to an established Triple-A baseball league.

Of 30 Class AAA cities, Portland ranked 25th based on last year’s attendance, behind megalopolises like Round Rock, Texas and Lehigh Valley, Penn., according to a recent news report by The Oregonian.

Even in the face of these sobering stats, instead of increasing support of a struggling sport franchise, city elected officials joined newly-minted Portland Timbers owner Merritt Paulson in making a much bigger gamble on soccer with public money.

That’s despite disappointing 2010 World Cup ratings for the Portland-Vancouver media market and the absence of evidence that Major League Soccer’s newest expansion team will draw in any of those TV viewers into the seats at a refurbished stadium at PGE Park.

Which brings me back to a characteristic inherent in the public sphere of this inarguably beautiful, engaging and one-of-a-kind city: a vision of the future which is not always grounded in reality.

This disconnect is the deciding factor in the city’s decision to divert badly-needed sewer dollars for a highly-ambitious and expensive bike plan. It’s behind the persistent denial in many quarters across the Columbia River over the necessity of replacing an aging bottleneck of an Interstate Bridge. It’s the principal reason that the Beavers will mostly likely be playing in the Golden State next year.

And for a city separated in regional economic development circles by just a hyphen (Portland-Vancouver USA, anyone?), the lack of reality-checking going on next door is something else:

A big problem.


CJM said...

The complete and utter inability for most of Portland to look at the long-term effects of ANY political decision, coupled with its anti-business views that scare off the very corporations needed to fund these "green" projects of theirs is why I moved across the Columbia to Vancouver, and I'm much happier for it. The AAA team will probably be happier/more supported for moving out of there too.