On the heels of stadium disputes erupting in Arizona, Seattle, and Anaheim, at least one American city is moving forward with plans to woo a major league club, whether it be an existing team or an expansion one. As ESPN reported:
A group seeking to lure a Major League Baseball team to Portland announced that it has signed an agreement in principle to develop a 45-acre waterfront site.
The agreement with the Port of Portland was announced Thursday by the Portland Diamond Project. The group also released artist renderings of a new ballpark at the port’s Terminal 2.
You can see the Portland Diamond Project’s statement here.
“We believe this has the potential to be a transformative landmark project for this city,” [PDP Founder and President Craig] Cheek said. “Building an iconic, state-of-the-art ballpark along the Willamette River will catalyze economic development and capture great views of both the urban scale of the city and regional character of the Pacific Northwest.”
This letter of intent with the Port kicks off a collaborative process with the City of Portland, and local communities, to create a Major League Baseball ballpark and community destination.
“We’re committed to building a sustainable, equitable, and accessible ballpark that reflects what makes Portland such a special place to live,” Cheek said. “That means outstanding locally sourced food and beverage amenities, environmentally sustainable construction and operations, opportunities for makers and small businesses, and an atmosphere that celebrates diversity and inclusion and is welcoming to all Portlanders.”
The renderings show a beautiful 30,000 seat ballpark.
We are thrilled to announce that the Portland Diamond Project has signed an agreement in principle with the Port of Portland to develop the Port’s 45-acre Terminal 2 property. Release: https://t.co/Ddi79kP4i7 #MLBtoPDX pic.twitter.com/B7PvImtXvB
— Portland Diamond Project (@PDXDiamondProj) November 29, 2018
Building an iconic, state-of-the-art ballpark along the Willamette River will catalyze economic development and capture great views of both the urban scale of the city and regional character of the Pacific Northwest. pic.twitter.com/jzCU7V5UH8
— Portland Diamond Project (@PDXDiamondProj) November 29, 2018
So how likely is this to actually happen? Well, on the one hand, Portland would be building a stadium with no team yet, so there’s a bit of a “Field of Dreams” element here: if you build it, will they come?
That said, it’s entirely possible that, in this case, someone will. Why? First, the Portland Diamond Project has real money behind it, with noted singer and model Ciara Harris and her husband, Seattle Seahawks Quarterback and noted baseball fan Russell Wilson, among the more notable investors in the project (each invested separately). And both seem particularly enthused about the possibility of bringing a big league team to Portland.
Now… this is a cool Birthday Present! ?????? pic.twitter.com/x6TcUTkO28
— Russell Wilson (@DangeRussWilson) November 29, 2018
What an exciting day!! The look of this tastes so sweet ???? https://t.co/M4g0mqfhSt
— Ciara (@ciara) November 30, 2018
Second, Portland’s municipal government has already voiced at least some willingness to partially fund the project.
“And I see this as a huge economic opportunity as I’ve said, it’s an opportunity to build a central city neighborhood from scratch and to do it right,” [Portland Mayor Ted] Wheeler said.
“And so it’s a very compelling vision. It’s an exciting opportunity,” he added.
Because of that, taxpayers will help make the development happen if things get that far.
“It would be very naive to assume there will be no public contribution. In any large scale economic development strategy in any urban development we do, tax increment financing comes in to play,” said Wheeler.
And third, Major League Baseball has long looked at Portland as the logical location for a big league club.
In an appearance on FS1’s First Things First, Manfred mentioned six potential expansion cities and explained that the addition of new teams would also lead to division and playoff realignment. Manfred elaborated that MLB has a “real list of cities, that I think are not only interested in having baseball, but are viable in terms of baseball.”
“Portland, Las Vegas, Charlotte, Nashville in the United States, certainly Montreal, maybe Vancouver, in Canada,” Manfred said. “We think there’s places in Mexico we could go over the long haul.”
The Diamond Project believes a Portland ballpark could be ready for first pitch as soon as 2022. Now, there is one minor hiccup: Portland doesn’t have a team yet. And while expansion is a possibility, there’s also no guarantee it will happen any time soon. So let’s examine another potential route to filling Portland’s new ballpark: a current team moving.
I should say up front that while all of the teams I’m about to discuss face varying degrees of uncertainty surrounding the location of their home parks going forward, none have expressed an affirmative desire to leave the general geographic areas in which they currently play. This is a bit of speculation on my part. But the emergence of Portland as a viable major league city could change the calculus around that decision, just as it might serve as a new point of leverage in their existing markets, and there are three teams that could potentially fit the bill. First is the Tampa Bay Rays, who are actively looking for a new ballpark and have encountered a few obstacles in their quest to build a new ballpark in Ybor City. Still, Commissioner Manfred remains optimistic that the team will remain in Florida, so we can probably cross them off the list.
Then we come to the Angels, who opted out of their lease earlier this year. The Angels’ lease now ends after 2019, which means their timing would line up nicely with the opening of Portland’s ballpark after a short extension. This is made somewhat more plausible by the team’s continued inability to get a municipality to agree to fund a new stadium, and the fact that the team has begun appraising Angels Stadium and the land on which it sits in preparation for a potential move. But the Angels are still an imperfect fit, if only because it’s possible Anaheim wouldn’t agree to a three-year lease knowing the franchise is departing anyway. Moreover, leaving California would mean the Angels giving up their rights to a long-term television deal that pays the team in excess of $100 million per year. So whether the Angels elect to move could come down to what they value more: a publicly-funded stadium, or a lucrative television deal. (This may be why some press reports at the time of the opt out suggested that if a move came, it would be within Southern California.)
That leaves one other team that might be a possibility for Portland: the Arizona Diamondbacks. We’ve talked before about the Diamondbacks’ uneasy relationship with Maricopa County, which culminated in a lawsuit settled earlier this year:
But it’s not at all clear that Phoenix will pony up to pay for a billion-dollar ballpark that critics said wasn’t even necessary. So if the city won’t pay, the county won’t pay, and the team won’t pay, that just leaves a Native American tribe if the team were built on tribal land like the Snakes’ spring-training facility is. Either that, or nobody does, and that means that the team might end up looking out of state.
Portland offers the Diamondbacks everything they want: a new stadium, public funding, and a new, hungry fanbase (though with few of the team’s namesakes to be found in Oregon, presumably a rebranding would be in order). And there’s more:
Under the [settlement agreement], if the Diamondbacks found a new location in Maricopa County, the team could leave Chase Field without penalty in 2022, five years earlier than the team’s current contract.
But that’s not entirely accurate. Paragraph 19 of the settlement agreement actually lets the team move out of state without penalty in 2022 if Major League Baseball were to decide, in its sole discretion, that the team had to depart Chase Field. And local tribes haven’t exactly been lining up to fund a stadium on tribal land, particularly given that the team would receive no tax benefits from building there. In fact, one municipal government official, in response to the Diamondbacks’ overtures, told team owner Ken Kendrick to “take your stupid baseball team and get out [of Arizona],” recommending the team go to West Virginia.
Now, it’s still likely that an expansion team ends up filling Portland’s new ballpark, just as it’s possible that, despite investors’ current enthusiasm, a ballpark and team never materialize there at all. But it’s not out of the question that an existing team could make a move to the west coast. Portland is preparing to build a brand new stadium. We just have to wait and see who comes.
Sheryl Ring is a litigation attorney and General Counsel at Open Communities, a non-profit legal aid agency in the Chicago suburbs. You can reach her on twitter at @Ring_Sheryl. The opinions expressed here are solely the author's. This post is intended for informational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice.