Portland Timbers cut a new deal

The Northwest's newest Major League Soccer franchise has reached a deal with the city of Portland to renovate PGE Park, now a baseball stadium.

Pacific Northwest soccer fans got a big break last week (Jan. 21) in Portland as owners of the Portland Timbers' new Major League Soccer franchise cut a deal with the City of Portland to renovate PGE Park into a soccer stadium.

That means that in 2011 the region will have an Amtrak Rivalry, as Vancouver and Portland join Seattle in the MLS. The Timbers currently use PGE Park for their minor-league soccer franchise.

PGE Park, once known as Multnomah Stadium, must be converted from a baseball stadium for the Portland Beavers into a made-for-soccer stadium. According to The Oregonian's coverage of the agreement, the Portland State University football team will play there as well, but the stadium will be configured for soccer. Efforts to bring Major League Baseball to Portland flourished in the 1990s but are currently dormant.

The Timbers' first incarnation as a professional soccer franchise was from 1975 to 1984 in the old North American Soccer League; the team took off with Portland fans and went to the NASL finals in its first season. After its NASL life, the Timbers went through a variety of levels of pro soccer, including two years in the American Professional Soccer League; current Sounders' goalkeeper Kasey Keller played on that team.

Soccer continues to have a strong base in Portland, where youth leagues for both boys and girls are well established and the University of Portland is a national force for both men and women.

The current soccer phase in Portland is linked to the personal fortunes of Merritt Paulson, who owns the minor-league franchise and the baseball Portland Beavers, both housed at PGE Park. Paulson, son of former Secretary of the Treasury Hank Paulson, has pledged that he and his father will personally guarantee the completion of the soccer stadium renovation in time for the 2011 season. The Oregonian states that the deal has at least three votes on the five-person Portland City Council, including Mayor Sam Adams.

The Oregonian reported: "Paulson pays $8 million in cash upfront and another $11.1 million into the city's Spectator Facilities Fund as prepaid rent to serve as a construction loan. The city will borrow $11.9 million using nontraditional zero-coupon bonds to defer interest and principal payments. Paulson agreed in the proposed deal to cover all construction cost overruns and committed to keeping the team in Portland for the life of the contract, which runs through 2035. Peregrine will operate the venue for the city."

Rabid Sounders' fans will have nothing on the Portland faithful if the past is any prediction of the future. I vividly recall being crammed into a packed stadium to watch the NASL Timbers, waiting for Timber Jim to climb a pole and crank up his chainsaw to celebrate a goal. Corny, of course, but certainly as authentic as a moose! (Relax, Mariners' fans; I love the moose!)

As for the Beavers, their future is uncertain; Paulson has been unable to put together a stadium deal with Portland or its suburban neighbors, but pro baseball has a history in Portland that isn't likely to die. It, too, is rooted in an old stadium long gone, the storied Vaughan Street ball park, where a long home run landed on the roof of an adjacent steel works. The last game was played in 1955 and the park was razed in 1956.

Exactly how the Timbers and Sounders will work out their field colors remains to be seen. The Sounders have established a brand in rave green and the Timbers in forest green. Even in the Northwest, how green is green?

Floyd J. McKay, professor of journalism emeritus at Western Washington University, was a print and broadcast journalist in Oregon for three decades. Recipient of a DuPont-Columbia Broadcast Award for documentaries, and a Nieman Fellowship at Harvard, he is also a historian and holds a Ph.D. from the University of Washington. He resides in Bellingham and can be reached at floydmckay@comcast.net.


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