The Hillsboro Hops ownership group and the City of Hillsboro held a joint neighborhood meeting last night at the Brookwood Library. Land use planning rules required the 6:00 PM meeting as a part of the process, one which will start with a Conditional Use Permit. That permit will allow the Hops to move ahead with the design plans for the massive 7,000-capacity stadium, which will replace the team’s current home, Ron Tonkin Field. All of this is happening on the Gordon Faber Sports and Recreation Complex, a Hillsboro City Park.
As neighbors and citizens listened, AKS, the lead consulting firm on the new stadium, presented its plan. That plan is to rush a conditional use permit through the City of Hillsboro under a Type III process. Owners within 500 feet of the site will be notified of that process. Others who want to get involved must get the application from the City when the time comes. The record will be open for comments, and those that comment could file a land use appeal. Of great concern is the fact that this new Hops Stadium will increase the even capacity if the complex by 7,000 seats. One would think that would generate a lot more traffic and parking requirements. However, Melissa Slotemaker of AKS indicated that no traffic planning studies or additional parking would be required. Others in the room backed up that notion but could provide little assurance that impacts are not going to be significant.
As questions ramped up, the meeting focused on the following issues of concern:
- This project is being approved in almost complete secrecy between the Hillsboro City Council and the Hillsboro Hops. The long-term lease, Millions in financial incentives, usage agreements, and the cost of an annual license for the Hops to have exclusive use are all being worked out privately. Audience members, including active and past Parks Commissioners, including Wayne Gross, the former Director of Hillsboro Parks, clarified their distaste for this project and process.
- The core issue is the destruction of Fields 4,5 and 6, which exist today. Those 3 fields allow youth and adult baseball and softball tournaments to happen at the complex, offering up to 8 playing surfaces at once. That makes the Gordon Faber Complex the site of some of the biggest events in the Pacific NW annually. Those fields and the costs to replace them are not being accounted for, and there is no plan of where that will happen. While it is a priority according to the City and the Hops, what is being offered is a big maybe right now. That will displace or eliminate revenue, events, and opportunities for decades to come.
- The costs of displacement/loss of the 3 fields are not being budgeted for and are not being shown as a part of the cost of this project. That is wrong, as the fields are being destroyed only because of the Hops and the MLB. It could cost $10 to $40 Million to replace these fields at this point.
- Many in the room stated that this process is moving too fast and that the City and the Hops are not providing the time or solutions needed to proceed reasonably.
- Traffic and Noise and Parking – all are clearly going to be a problem. Little to no answers were offered by the presenters, other than neither are being looked at as a part of this expansion.
- The Parks and Recreation Commission was completely bypassed in this process, with the City Council and the staff of the Economic Development Department opting to cite executive privilege to decide without the input of the Commission unilaterally. This breaks the tradition of involving the Commission in decisions on such matters. That has left a bad taste in the mouths of some of the most dedicated people in the City of Hillsboro.
- The $18 Million in TLT Tax that Hillsboro is saying is our cost to make this new stadium happen is disingenuous to use. In fact, the people of Hillsboro will be taxed with the costs of building three new fields with parking and bathrooms etc- which could easily run $15 to $40 Million. In addition, we are giving the Hops exclusive use of City land- about 9 acres- that has a value of Millions of dollars- maybe as much as $15 Million. In total, costs to the people of Hillsboro appear to be more like $40-$50 Million. If that is true, then this new stadium is actually costing much more than the planned remodeling, which si where this entire mess started.
- Hops ownership ad management came across as looking less than concerned. The report they paid for and are using to tout the benefits of this project economically (Eco-Nw economic impact study) is something they are not willing to share with the general public. Their organization’s economic benefit from running Rock Concerts and baseball games is clearly their primary concern. They appeared to have no concern and little interest in replacing the fields they must destroy and certainly are not looking to pay for any of those costs.
Everyone we have spoken to on this matter says the deal is done. The Mayor and the 6 City Councilors all voted for it, are allowing it to happen without any stipulations about the replacement fields (so far), and even went so far as to ask the City attorney to make sure they did not have to bring in the Parks Commission. That would have stalled this process for sure, as members of that commission have a very community-focused approach and would never have given the Hops an express pass to the check-out stand. At this juncture, the skids have been greased, and the train is rolling down the tracks. So much so that K.L. Whombacher, Hops manager, indicated grading was going to happen before the designs were even done.
Rahim Harji, Deputy City Manager, tried to answer a host of great and thoughtful questions but struggled at times to respond.
“Again, I would have hoped to have had all this information by now. being honest with you, about where we are going to mitigate the lost use, and to your point, how we can move things around…we are just not there yet,” offered Rahim responding to one woman who hammered away at the value of tournaments that will be lost, that can bring up to 100 teams into Hillsboro.
Another audience member with significant experience with Gordon Faber hammered away at the $18 Million dollars in Transient Lodging Tax the City is giving to the Hops as a bargaining chip.
“I think that is the biggest issue here. The complex is really going to lose the opportunity to host these current events, which are so popular. It was probably the most popular venue in the entire Portland region that had these kind of events, and that is going to be lost now….that is the fundamental problem I think that the City has created here! And to say that this project is the only project in the City of Hillsboro that the lodging tax revenues can be used for? Well, that is just not true! Other Cities around the State are using this money for otehr kinds of projects. They don’t have a ball park to be putting into- so let’s not say that this is the only thing that the money can be used for!”
Harji replied back, “Just to be clear, I don’t think we have ever said that this is the only thing that the money could be used for, at the time we made the decision it was the only project we had identified at the time. so, I just want to be clear on that. Yes! There are many other projects that could be used for this type of funding, but at the time we made the decision this was the only oen we had on the books. And frankly, being candid, it was an opportunity. And the Council deided to chose this as that opportunity.”
Person after person gave testimony about the loss of these fields. One father whose daughter plays softball here in Hillsboro gave testimony that the idea here should not be to replace three fields but to add more fields. He spoke of a huge opportunity to continue the Hillsboro community’s vision when Gordon Faber was built. He sees more fields and a bigger commitment as a draw for the Region and a chance for Hillsboro to take the financial benefits of having major events come here. Events that can outperform the Hops and a few rock concerts, hands down.
Finally, Tom Taylor testified that he wanted to know if the City had done any economic impact reports on the benefits of having tournaments which we do now, and how much we will lose if we go with this new Hops stadium. And Taylor wanted to know if anyone has weighed the Hops benefits over the existing situation. Harji stated that the City had not done any detailed assessments yet. He stated that the City has talked about doing one.
“Wouldn’t that be kind of important to see if we are losing more than we are gaining? What happened here where we did not have all of these discussions publicly with all the players? We might not gain a penny from this. “
Tom is right. We might be better off spending $18,000,000 on a new tournament baseball/soccer/softball/lacrosse facility, saving ourselves $20,000,000 plus by not having to replace the 3 fields and send the Hops to another town. The economic benefits that Hillsboro gets from the Hops are limited, and with so many empty seats (attendance averaging 1,900 out of 4,000 plus seats) it is hard to see how that will improve. How will the Hops pay for the 80,000,000 Million dollars in debt they must acquire to build this project? Something does not add up here. Whombacher stated that 12-20 Rock Concerts a year will be held at the new stadium. That and 64 Home games will not put a dent in that debt. So what is really happening?
One thing is for sure, The Hops were not ready for this meeting and could not answer questions of any depth. The City staff is always very sharp and well-spoken, but those in attendance are left unmoved and unsure – more questions than answers. Rahim is sharp- a man of great insight. When he is unsure and unable to answer straightforward questions, we can be assured things are moving too fast.
Watch the video we provided, which is the Voice content from the meeting with the slides provided and some of our own content- the Herald is on this story and will follow it to its conclusion. One that our City Council seems to have already made.