The formation of a Major League Soccer franchise in Portland took another step forward this week.
The Major League Soccer Task Force approved a set of recommendations that would see the city refurbish PGE Park as a soccer-only stadium and constructing a new minor league baseball stadium elsewhere in the city.
In order to bring MLS soccer to the city, PGE Park would need a $38 million upgrade and the Beavers would need a new, smaller stadium that is better suited for its attendance levels. The Task Force recommends either destroying Memorial Coliseum to build a new stadium in its footprint or expanding the Walker Stadium baseball facility located in the Lents neighborhood. Merritt Paulson, owner of the Timbers and the Beavers, has pledged to pay the nearly $40 million franchise fee for the soccer team.
The Task Force made it clear they didn't want to risk any of the city's general fund money for the multi-million dollar project. Urban Renewal dollars, as well as bond revenue and private sources, will help fund the estimated $85 million project. A funding gap remains -- $37 million for the Memorial Coliseum proposal and $18 million for the Lents Park proposal – which the Task Force indicated would be up to Paulson's company Shortstop, LLC to fill.
The Task Force also mandated that open park space not be lost when constructing additional facilities for the baseball park, and that losing the baseball team would be an unacceptable trade-off to gaining a professional soccer team.
The City Council will hear the recommendations and make a vote next week. If Paulson's bid on one of the two MLS soccer expansion teams up for auction this year wins, the team could play as soon as 2011.