Even though I've been in Portland for almost a year, I still find that the best way to put local news in perspective is to talk it over with my five roommates, all Portland-area natives. Case in point: The $88.8 million plan for a soccer and baseball stadium, approved this past week by the Portland City Council.
The roommates weighed in: The real estate broker tells me that $88 million (we rounded it down, reflecting our finders fees) will buy 296 area houses. The TV cameraman, says: "Soccer? Nobody here wants to watch soccer. This is Portland, we like to drink beer and smoke weed." And, I should add, watch the Trailblazers play. I should also add that $88 million can buy just under 1.8 million beers, 22,000 pounds of pot, or 607,000 Blazers tickets.
Now, this blogger is all for urban development in his adopted city, but the benefits of this project are dubious and the costs very real. And big. As my roommate noted, Portlanders have other things to worry besides funding a new sports venue.
That $88 million could put about $20,000 in the pocket of each Portland-area homeless person, thereby resolving that issue for now. The money would hire almost 2,000 new police officers. It would solve Tri-Met's budget woes six times over. We could institute a bike-rental system, or fund a great museum, or even buy the City Council a Gulfstream jet and have enough left to pay for years of flying it. It's enough to provide nearly 8,000 families with health insurance.
A press release from Merritt Paulson, the major private investor, claims that the plan "creates hundreds of jobs, protects taxpayers from risk…we have agreed to finance or guarantee a majority of the project, the safeguard against cost overruns and to expand our already ambitious involvement in the community." His assurances sound good, and granted, his $40 million is a big chunk, but selling bonds and raising another $15 million for the balance in this economic climate is not smart. The jobs Paulson mentions would be in construction and service industries &mdash areas where we need job growth — but for this kind of money, the Rose City could just hire all these would-be workers directly. Create a real jobs program, folks.
It's nothing personal, Mr. Paulson. I like soccer — not that I can afford to attend the games &mdash but there are more pressing issues here. And I'm not talking about the beer, weed or even the Trailblazers.
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