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Brian Stimson of The Skanner
Published: 11 March 2009

The decision to bring Major League Soccer to Portland won the City Council's approval by a 3-2 vote Wednesday afternoon.

The council voted on initial business plans to renovate PGE Park in order to accommodate professional soccer and build a new, smaller ballpark for the Beavers.

The proposal was backed by Mayor Sam Adams and Councilmembers Dan Saltzman and Randay Leonard. Councilmembers Nick Fish and Amanda Fritz opposed the deal our of concerns that it could affect city services.

Randy Leonard likened it to other controversial projects.

"We have Pioneer Courthouse Square, we have parks, attractions, amenities, we have the Blazers," he said. "All of which were decisions being made by prior councils to make tough choices that not everybody at the time thought were good ideas."

Many critics have lambasted the plan as financially reckless during a time of economic downturn.

Mayor Sam Adams said that was exactly the reason this project was needed.

"This reminds me of another project built in the depths of the last economic catastrophe," Mayor Adams said. "Except it didn't have a private partner. That was Timberline Lodge."

Many veterans and others are concerned about the possibility that Memorial Coliseum would be torn down to build the Beavers' new ball park. The council is also considering building the new ballpark in Lents.

Ultimately, in order to win Saltzman's approval, the council agreed to not use Westside Urban Renewal financing for the project. The city would have had to create a new Westside Urban Renewal Zone to provide $15 million for a portion of PGE Park's renovation – an amount Timbers and Beavers owner Merritt Paulson now has to provide. Paulson has already agreed to pay the $40 million bid for the MLS franchise fee and another $24 million for the $89 million project. Paulson will also personally guarantee user fees and rent over the next 25-years, regardless of whether the soccer team fails. City attorney Steve Janik said enforcing the guarantee would be easy, considering the net worth of Paulson's guarantors.

Additional funding will come from ticket user fees, tax increment financing bonds and Eastside Urban Renewal dollars. The city is not risking any money from their general fund.

The agreement that the council approved is by no means a guarantee that MLS will be playing in Portland. Paulson will still have to win the bid for a new team, raise the necessary money and the council still has to approve all construction, design and financial contracts before moving ahead with the project.

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