MLS team in Portland benefits Vikings

Should it come to pass, a bid to bring Major League Soccer to Portland has a significant upside for Portland State football with nil-to-no drawbacks. It’s just that a lot of ifs, hows and whys are the in way.

Should it come to pass, a bid to bring Major League Soccer to Portland has a significant upside for Portland State football with nil-to-no drawbacks. It’s just that a lot of ifs, hows and whys are the in way.

On Wednesday, a 3-2 vote by the Portland City Council to approve a stadium funding proposal to help bring Major League Soccer to Portland is the first step toward a major renovation and expansion of PGE Park, where the Vikings play their home football games.

Under a proposal by Merritt Paulson of Shortstop, LLC., presented to the city council in November, Shortstop would cover the $40 million MLS franchise fee if the city would come up with $85 million to finance renovation of PGE Park and construct a new facility for the Portland Beavers baseball team. Shortstop is seeking one of two MLS expansion teams for the 2011 season.

If the deal comes to fruition, renovations to PGE Park could substantially upgrade the game-time atmosphere for Portland State football games and could act as a more enticing facility for potential recruits.

Paulson is also the owner of the Portland Beavers minor-league baseball team and Portland Timbers United States Leagues soccer club. In addition to the Vikings, the Beavers and Timbers both call PGE Park home.

The park is also used for high school football, national and international exhibition baseball and soccer, concerts, among other events.

Being awarded a franchise is contingent upon having a suitable venue to play in or viable plans to have one built. PGE Park, while suitable for its current professional, minor-league and college teams, does not meet MLS’s capacity or playing field standards.

Renovating PGE Park for “soccer-only” use would not preclude its use for football. It would, however, displace the Beavers. And the costs to the city associated with creating a second new venue has set off a political firestorm.

For weeks soccer fans and public financing proponents have implored the city council to run with the plan, citing job creation, positive revenue flow to the city through increased international recognition and tourism. Critics of the plan said that it was irresponsible of the city to consider such a plan in the face of extreme economic uncertainty and cuts to essential services.

For a city that requested all bureaus to cut budgets by 5 percent or more for the next fiscal year based on forecasts of significant shortfalls in tax revenue, the MLS proposal seems to be a tenuous gambit for the city council in the minds of many city leaders.

Lindsay Desrochers, vice president of finance and administration at PSU, is a member of the task force reviewing Paulson’s plan.

“My job was to look out not just for PSU interests but the larger interests of the city,” Desrochers said. “Our responsibility was to look at all possible revenue sources for funding while protecting the city from financial damage.”

“For the university, it’s my impression that there’s a derivative benefit to [PSU football] gained by playing in a larger stadium—in player recruitment and ticket sales,” Desrochers added.

Wednesday’s vote on the task force’s recommendation to approve plans to bring MLS to Portland was not binding, and the soccer league has yet to announce it decision on expansion cities.

Portland State’s contract with Shortstop expires at the end of the 2009-10 football season. However, Portland State athletic director Torre Chisholm said he didn’t foresee any changes to the university’s long-term plan to play at PGE Park.

“We have a verbal commitment from Merritt to continue using PGE Park as our home field beyond 2010,” Chisholm said.

Already one of the top football venues in the Big Sky Conference, a renovated PGE Park would likely elevate the stadium to one of the best in the NCAA’s Football Championship Subdivision.

Design improvements call for removing the park’s eastside bleacher-style seating and filling out the “bowl” around the field—or extending the horseshoe in PGE’s case –with 50 percent more folding-seat style rows. PGE Park’s current capacity for sporting events is 19,556.

No matter what happens next with the bid to bring MLS to Portland, the Vikings will be no worse off and could benefit substantially from the deal.