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Ethan: Flashback, 2014. “Portland voters reject attempt to sell Congress Square Park!” You remember?
Phil: Vividly. I assumed Portland voters would easily embrace economic development, I was wrong. Portland sent the clear message that it is undeniably a far-left leaning city.
Ethan: If it’s “far left” to say you don’t want a public park sold to a hotel developer, I accept that moniker.
Phil: Why are you asking about a vote that happened seven years ago?
Ethan: We may be going back to the future. Private investors are looking to take over (through a “low-cost land lease”) what is, by my estimate, close to 100,000 square feet of public property on our waterfront so they can build a huge professional soccer stadium.
Phil: A soccer team seems like a great fit for Portland. Although I am agnostic on the location, my sense after Congress Square Park is that turning over a public park for a profit-minded business is ripe for controversy.
Ethan: How fast do you think that would turn into a people’s veto? It would be like the Town Council of Yarmouth approving a soccer stadium in Royal River Park.
Phil: That would not fly for logistical reasons, but, do you think the Portland Council would actually entertain giving up this greenspace?
Ethan: Unfortunately, our track record has been to sell stuff for a less-than-ideal public purpose ( see 4.1 acres of public property sold to developers in Bayside) or we offer huge subsidies where huge subsidies are not needed ( see the $1.9M to build Thames Street for a private developer).
Phil: My understanding is that there are two public spaces they are looking at: Back Cove and Fitzpatrick Stadium.
Ethan: Yes. The other proposal is to renovate Fitzpatrick. That would mean major renovations to the existing facility, including relocating the running track.
Phil: The second option seems reasonable don’t you think?
Ethan: Certainly reasonable in relation to Back Cove, but the devil will be in the details. Will public and school access as it currently exists be protected/enhanced? Will the lease agreement itself net revenue to the city for general use? And what is the level of improvements to our public infrastructure?
Phil: No wonder it is so hard to create jobs in Portland. The hurdles you expect are astounding. How about simply asking how many jobs and how much economic activity these investors will provide to the neighborhood?
Ethan: If we go by that standard, no city would have a sports team.
Phil: You don’t think the Sea Dogs are good for the Portland economy even though they attract visitors and contribute to your brand?
Ethan: I love the Sea Dogs, but like most businesses, no, I don’t see a lot of collateral economic activity. People come to the stadium for the game, they eat and drink at the game, and they leave. Some parking revenue to a few local businesses and certainly some folks eat in town, but not much evidence that this wouldn’t have already occurred.
Phil: Don’t you get money from the Sea Dogs for using the stadium that can be used to pay for all those programs you love?
Ethan: Ha! The revenue they pay taxpayers goes back into operating/maintaining the stadium for them. And any additional maintenance we have to pay comes out of our own pockets. They even tried to get the taxpayers to borrow half a million dollars a few years back to replace the lights on the field!
Phil: Sounds like you need me to become Portland’s agent to make sure you get the best deal.
Ethan: Suit up, you are starting!