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Funding snag clouds positive Portland vote
by Ridge Mahoney, March 12th, 2009 7AM
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[MLS] It seems appropriate that an ambitious plan melding soccer and baseball facilities would toss up a curveball. By a 3-2 vote, the Portland City Council Wednesday approved a funding plan by which more than $60 million in public monies would be loaned so Merritt Paulson -- owner of the USL-1 Timbers and minor-league baseball Beavers -- can build new stadiums for both teams.

However, the council also passed an amendment that removed one of the funding mechanisms for the projects; the establishment of a new urban renewal district where PG&E Park - the proposed home for the MLS team once it is renovated - by which $15 million would have been raised through increased property taxes.

After a six-hour hearing the vote was held, and Commissioner Dan Saltzman sided with the project's authors, Mayor Sam Adams and Commissioner Randy Leonard, on the "yes" side. Commissioners Amanda Fritz and Nick Fish, citing cuts in basic services that could result from funneling so much public money into the projects, voted no. The worsening economic climate and a previous renovation to PG&E Park on which the city took a heavy loss has soured some politicians and many citizens to any such outlays of public funds.

All five members of the City Council agreed to the amendment, which leaves Paulson and MLS closer to the finish and with a degree of political backing but still short of money. Paulson for months resisted putting up anything more than the $40 million expansion fee and is already on the hook for more than $24 million, as well as guarantees to repay the balance.

If MLS is to approve the Portland expansion bid, it must either grant the franchise assuming the $15 million hole will be filled, or wait until discussions and negotiations complete the funding package. MLS spokesman Dan Courtemanche said last week the league might decide to name just one team for the 2011 season - presumably Vancouver - in the near future and wait on selecting a second.

The other funding sources for the $88.8 million package remain intact. Paulson's share is more than $24 million, with the renovations for PG&E Park projected to cost $33.69 million and a new baseball stadium pegged at $55.095 million. There are conditions and restrictions by which he guarantees repayment of the loans, and all events at both facilities will incur a 7 percent ticket surcharge to help the repayment process.

Not until the city council approves a plan that includes the $15 million portion can it enter into a binding agreement. Paulson has pledged $12.5 million and needs to raise another $11.8 million to pay his share of the projects, in addition to forking out the $40 million expansion fee.

Paulson, who has owned the Timbers and Beavers since 2001, is the son of Henry Paulson, the former U.S. Secretary of the Treasury. They have formed Peregrine LLC (limited-liability company) to process the bid.

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