In 2013, the city of Hillsboro, Oregon, built and paid $15 million in city bonds for the ballpark called Ron Tonkins Field so that their minor league team, the Hillsboro Hops, could have a home field. Now that 10 years have passed, both Major League Baseball and the owners of the Hillsboro Hops believe that the team needs a new home. Last year, MLB called on the city to substantially upgrade the ballpark or else the team may relocate. It is yet another example of MLB trying to bully minor league cities into absurd upgrades at the cost of taxpayers money. Therefore, over the last few months, the team has discussed whether to upgrade/expand the current ballpark or to build a new ballpark at an estimated cost of $120 million. Then on March 8, the team and city announced that a new ballpark would be built near the current site. Even with this new ballpark being negotiated and built, both MLB and the Hops expect upgrades to their current ballpark.
So, how will they pay for all of this?
Well, several weeks ago, the Hillsboro News Times wrote a story explaining that the city’s financial plans for the new ballpark were far from certain. At that time, the city intended to give the team $10 million in lodging tax money and $30 million in loans to be paid over an unknown time frame. This meant that the city would be paying for 35% of the design stage for the new ballpark (here is a good over-view on what exactly a design stage is). Then last week, the Hillsboro City Council discussed whether to “approve more city funds” for the new ballpark. The city will now take contribute an additional $18 million from lodging taxes. As the Hillsboro Herald noted, are we really expecting a minor league team to bring in that many new people every game? It could take forever to get this money back. This also meant that the city was now paying 65% of the design costs for the new ballpark.
There are so many questions left to be answered. For example, will the loan amount increase or decrease if the ballpark is upgraded and expanded? Furthermore, why is the city suddenly taking on 65% of the design stage? The minor league team is supposed to pay the rest of any costs associated with the new ballpark. This didn’t stop the team from asking the state for additional funds, since another minor league team got $7.5 million in state money for their ballpark. The Hillsboro Herald has written several great pieces about all of this. Included in one of the stories was the fact that not only was the city giving the team millions of dollars in taxpayer money and loans, but additionally, the team was being given several acres of land for free. These lands are worth millions on the open market and, and they are giving it to a team whose “parking lot is empty most days”?
Then BizTrib.com wrote a story this week detailing some issues that city commissioners had with this deal. For example, since three public playing fields will be eliminated once construction of the new ballpark begins, has the city council or mayor talked to anyone at the city parks and recreation department? Nah. Best to keep it quiet and just hope people forget about the public fields being taken away with no alternative for them. What about a noise study for those people living near the new ballpark? Nah. This is what happens when a small group of people make significant city deals without any public input.
In this specific deal, no public input comes because everyone who is a part of this deal is mandated to sign a nondisclosure form. I still don’t understand how this can happen with taxpayer money and land at issue in the deal. When BizTrib asked the spokesman for the City Council why important city details were not shared with other city officials, they cited the fast schedule (intentionally done by the sports owner/team). The city manager said out loud what most don’t…which is that sports leagues get special treatment.
“City Manager Robby Hammond acknowledged … that this project hasn’t allowed city officials to take the usual route with planning and engagement. ‘This is not a typical project’, he told councilors. ‘Normally, when we identify a need in the community, we figure out that need, then we go and figure out the funding source and take our time planning out the construction phases and all of that. This is not that type of project because we have these deadlines that we need to meet because of Major League Baseball.”
– BizTrib.com, 04/14/23
The spokesman also noted that other city officials could have come to recent commission meetings the last two months. One problem with this statement:
“However, meeting materials indicate those discussions all took place when the proposal was still to expand Ron Tonkin Field — not to build a new stadium on top of land now occupied by three public ballfields. No conversation about the new baseball stadium appears on any of the Hillsboro Parks & Recreation Commission meeting agendas for 2023. When city staff were asked to provide the meeting recording for the commission’s Feb. 14 meeting, Hillsboro officials said the meeting was “inadvertently not recorded.” City staff instead provided the minutes from that meeting, which did not contain any references to a new baseball stadium”
– BizTrib.com, 04/14/23
Right. So, the city spokesman was lying. I mean, let’s just state the obvious. I think the Hillsboro Herald summed it up perfectly by stating that “Moreover … the City Manager, with the support and direction of Mayor Callaway and the City Council, made a snap decision to dump the Stadium remodeling plan, build a new stadium, and remove the three major youth baseball and softball fields with no plan to replace them.”
Like so many sports deals today, a city pushes through a last second deal with no input so that the public won’t see just how much the city is giving the professional sports team.