Two years ago, Portland was a top contender with Northern Virginia and Washington, D.C., to land the vagabond Montreal Expos. Well, the Expos moved to D.C., where they averaged nearly 34,000 fans a game last season.
As for Portland...
"We were the leading city two years ago, and Portland did very little to make it happen," says Steve Kanter, president of the Portland Baseball Group, a nonprofit trying to bring the big leagues to town. "There's still a strong commitment by several groups to get a team here, but the city is going to have to step up and provide some effort. Otherwise, this whole drive is going to fade away and die."
Yet at City Hall, no one is even working on a bid, says Tom Miller, chief of staff for Commissioner Sam Adams. "The mayor isn't for it, we're not for it; I don't know if anyone here is supportive of it," Miller says of the baseball drive. "If a team moved here, it would have to finance a stadium itself."
Portland appeared primed to lure the Expos in 2003 after the Oregon Legislature passed a bill that would have devoted $150 million in income taxes from players toward retiring bonds used to build a $350 million downtown stadium.
While a local financing plan was partially in place, political clout combined with a larger population base in D.C. and Northern Virginia to make most non-Portland baseball observers conclude that an East Coast deal was inevitable, with Portland getting used as a bargaining chip.
Still, Kanter blames the city's failure to land a team on a half-hearted approach.
"People from Major League Baseball were not overly impressed by what the city produced and that essentially ended our drive to get the Expos," Kanter says.
The primary location for a stadium remains the downtown post office.
And Kanter, a professor at Lewis & Clark Law School, says MLB reps have told him there are possibly two other teams interested in moving to a better stadium.
The San Francisco Giants privately financed their $357 million stadium, which opened in 2000, but no other stadium has been entirely privately financed since the Los Angeles Dodgers built Dodger Stadium in 1962.
Kanter says a Major League stadium would do wonders to enliven an already thriving Pearl District, although there are plenty of economists who disagree on the economic impact of pro sports teams.
But any momentum from 2003 is waning.
David Kahn, one of the primary baseball supporters and business consultants, has moved into an ownership role in four teams in the NBA's Developmental League. Vera Katz, a supporter of luring a baseball team, is no longer mayor.
And neither Katz's replacement, Tom Potter, nor Katz's former chief of staff, now-Commissioner Sam Adams, is interested in picking up the ball, says Adams' spokesman, Miller.
"We've got a lot of other issues we're working on," Miller says.