Bill Oram wrote a sports story today for the Oregonian. But it was not a researched article, nor was it truthful news. It was more of a puff piece and a pitch to anyone who reads it that someone with 20 Million dollars needs to do something fast to save the Hillsboro Hops. It is an opinion piece and nothing more, and it reads as a PR article for the team. The Oregonian is struggling for readership, mainly because no one wants to pay to digest this sort of nonsense. The stench rising from the story is almost as rotten as the bull shit piling up at the Hillsboro City Hall, where the new Hillsboro Hops stadium project has been going through preliminary approvals for the past several months. And I say all this as my opinion (fully disclosed above) and as someone who has been at every meeting and every hearing and provided significant testimony.
In Oram’s story today https://www.oregonlive.com/sports/2023/09/bill-oram-save-the-hops-stadium-funding-shortfall-puts-minor-league-team-at-risk-of-leaving-hillsboro.html (Bill Oram: Save the Hops? Stadium funding shortfall puts baseball team at risk of leaving Hillsboro) he quotes Jim Etzel. Chief Executive Officer of Sports Oregon. Etzel went on the record that the Hillsboro Hops will leave if the new stadium is not funded in Hillsboro. Jim is a powerful voice for sports in Oregon, so I expect him to take that position. But his voice and his formidable organization loaded with power players is being used to pressure the people of Hillsboro, of Washington County, and those in power in Salem to do something and to do it now. Full disclosure, because Oram will not tell you: KL Wombacher, who runs the Hillsboro Hops, is on the Executive Board of Directors of Sport Oregon. According to Oram, he was sitting in the conference room at Ron Tonkin Field counting down the days to September 30th when he has to give Major League Baseball an answer if the Stadium is a go or no go. Sounds like a cozy meeting – very objective place to do a sports story.
The problem is, up until this story, the Hops and the City have been saying it is all a go with no mention of this last-minute $20 Million.
Earlier this year, in a private meeting that was closed to the public, the Hillsboro City Council unilaterally decided to approve a new stadium and give the Hillsboro Hops all of the revenue from the lodging tax paid in the City of Hillsboro. That pledge will total $18 Million dollars. That same Council decided to circumvent the Hillsboro Parks Commission, which, by its creation, is supposed to determine all matters that affect Hillsboro Parks. But not to fear, they asked the City Attorney to ensure they could not be sued or blocked from doing so. This is the same Council that pretends they are transparent and equitable with an open process. Nothing could be more laughable in this case.
As of last Wednesday night, the City of Hillsboro Planning and Zoning Hearings Board had completed its 3rd hearing. After hours and hours of debate and worry over a wide variety of factors, a preliminary approval was granted. It will have conditions and is not a written order yet. So, nothing is final. After the notice is issued, anyone who provided testimony will receive that notice and will be able to appeal that decision to the Hillsboro City Council and possibly beyond. At this time, I can all but guarantee you that this will happen. If it does, it will be because the City of Hillsboro, which applied as both the applicant and decision maker for this stadium approval, refused to do sound, lighting, or traffic studies. Almost any small private development, like dog parks and charter schools, would have required those same studies. And this is a 6,000-seat new stadium with room for thousands more on the field and surrounding facilities. Appeals take time- months or years even. Time the Hops do not have, according to Oram’s story and Hillsboro Hops General Manager KL Wombacher.
Oram’s article is full of dire language that this weekend’s games may be the last. Wombacher is quoted as saying that the result of not getting $20 Million dollars of additional money could mean the instant end of the team in Hillsboro. He mentions a September 30th meeting with MLB, which is demanding league-mandated updates to the existing stadium (not a new stadium), by which the team needs to solidify a plan and the funding or face the consequences.
We’re in a tough spot for sure but we’re committed to this community and are driven to preserve Hops baseball for decades to come. We’ve felt the love today from fans and it motivates us to make sure we get this project done! #AllHoppedUp https://t.co/7xJnDvQD9f
— K.L. Wombacher (@wombokl) September 9, 2023
The article says that Hillsboro Senator Janeen Sollman will try and find the extra $20 Million- and she is quoted asking people to take to the phones and communication channels to pressure their legislators to find this money. She is a big Hops fan, often posts about the team, and failed in a previous attempt to get the team this money.
As of last Wednesday, the City of Hillsboro had agreed to the following:
- Give the Hops $18 Million Dollars in Transient Lodging Tax Funds- no repayment.
- Letting the Hillsboro Hops demolish and forever remove Fields 4, 5, and 6 at the Gordon Faber Sports and Recreation Complex. Land that is valued at as much as $15 Million dollars, which the Hops will get for little or no financial commitment. Money not accounted for in the $120,000,000 that Oram’s article and the Hops/City have put forth as the costs of the new stadium.
- The Hillsboro Hops will not have to contribute to the replacement of the lost fields, a number now estimated to be as much as $22,000,000. Also, it is not accounted for as a project cost in that $120,000,000.
- No contract has been signed with the Hops for the new stadium, and no new stadium lease has been completed – as far as we have been advised.
- The City did get preliminary approval, subject to appeal, for the Hops to build the new ballpark.
- The City approved up to 36 events a year at the new stadium, which can exceed 7,000 people, and all the talk is that major concerts will be coming to town to help the Hops make money on their investment. Not that we needed traffic studies or noise or light studies for little things like that.
The original plan was to remodel Ron Tonkin Field. There were rudimentary bid summaries by one consultant (Mortenson) that ranged from 145 Million to 160 Million. Here is that document. Hillsboro Hops Stadium Renovation 2023: In my experience, there is no viable bid until a bid packet is sent out. The City and The Hops can still execute this plan and put it out to bid as one option- I am willing to bet a remodel can be done for much less than a brand new stadium- but that is not the narrative being offered.
Mortenson also bid the alternative of building a new 6,000-seat stadium simultaneously. That bid shows a 94 Million dollar cost estimate with some added upgrades, which would be “extras,” adding another $16 Million. So, let’s call it $110 Million. That bid is right here: Hillsboro Hops New Stadium. But wait, to be fair, we have to add $15 Million for free land because that is the value of land and the $22 Million for the lost fields. Even if the Hillsboro Hops are not paying for it, someone must (Citizens of Hillsboro), which is a severe direct cost. So this new stadium is going to cost $147 Million dollars legitimately. Or Maybe not- who knows because the project is not fully vetted yet.
Despite my opinions, that is an accurate record and rooted in actual facts.
Looking Back to Yakima – 2012
The Hillsboro Hops were formerly the Yakima Bears. The City of Yakima and the County were under identical pressure. In this article, KL Wombacher used carefully worded language that made it clear that they might consider leaving if they did not get a new stadium or a highly renovated one.
From that story:
Where will the Bears be in 2013?
“That’s a good question,” answered Yakima Bears General Manager K.L. Wombacher. “At this point, we don’t know. You know, it’s tough to say we’re not gonna be here.”
The Bears saw its dream of a new ballpark on the old Cascade mill site give way to plans for a regional soccer complex. Vancouver, Washington also said no to a new stadium the Bears thought was a done deal. Now, two ballparks in Oregon could be in the works.
Milwaukie and Hillsboro are both considering stadiums. Hillsboro’s could be ready in time for the 20-13 season if it gets the go ahead.
“If they got ’em built, we would take a look at it,” Wombacher said.
In Oram’s article, Wombacher opines that he can’t imagine a community (Hillsboro) losing a team over $20 Million dollars.
KL it is not just $20 Million dollars. It’s 18 Million that our people are already giving your team and the $22 Million we will have to spend for new fields because you and the ownership want a new stadium for baseball and rock concerts. And you want our $15 Million in prime land for little to nothing. That is $50 to $60 MIllion dollars we are talking about. And we lose our fields…for our kids and adults to enjoy, which they have done joyfully for decades at the Gordon Faber. That is why almost 500 people signed petitions to stop this current plan, and so many of us have spent time and energy trying to have the City and your team return to the drawing board and reconsider remodeling Ron Tonkin. Yet you persist.
KL, who are you talking to? You made a masterful move in Yakima with more than one foot out the door to our city while trying to stay- or maybe you did not try? Let me help you out.
One pundit on Reddit offered this: https://www.reddit.com/r/baseball/comments/12zq18p/what_city_deserves_an_milb_team/?onetap_auto=true
What cities would be best suited for theses new AAA, AA, High-A, and Single-A squads?
A few off the top of my head:
New Orleans (or Shreveport/Baton Rouge tbh, the fact that Louisiana has none is insane)
There are tempting options there for sure- so KL, are we the next Yakima?,
In closing, let me say that many people love the Hillsboro Hops. The team has stepped up its game and entertainment value, and I recognize that- I think most people do. Hillsboro people like an honest and straightforward deal. These less-than-veiled threats of needing another $20 Million to keep the team here are modern-day extortion. We do not like that- and perhaps New Orleans might be a better fit. For you to meet with sports writers like Oram, reign in Wetzel, and whine to them and Sollman less than two days after the land use approval was issued is so telling. Had you done so before that, it could have bit the process in the ass- and it didn’t- at least not yet. You are a master at the game – but we see it for what it is. Some of us are watching, and we do not appreciate it or your approach- it has a sleaze factor to it, and it reflects poorly on your ownership, who do not deserve that, and on you. And I think you are better than that.
Maybe it’s time to pack it up?
This is just the latest ramification of MLB requiring minor league teams to build new ballparks or renovate, and expecting taxpayers around the country to pay for it.https://t.co/atgssa8lbL
— Chuck Slothower (@chuckslothower) September 8, 2023
Never mentioned in these Hops stadium stories: The cost of replacing fields, the site of those replaced fields and whether or not the softball community was asked about a private entity laying claim to public fields… again. https://t.co/qt5KXGzfUX
— Jason Notte (@Notteham) September 8, 2023
It could have something to do with general lack of interest. During a season that lacked the extreme heat and wildfire smoke blamed for poor attendance in the past, Hops attendance is actually falling this year. @billoram https://t.co/qHJIC8ErC8 pic.twitter.com/vvf0yH5Ump
— Jason Notte (@Notteham) September 8, 2023
I have not read this book yet, but many of may want to- https://www.amazon.com/May-Best-Team-Win-Economics/dp/081579729X
Quotes from Readers:
“The overriding theme of the book is that MLB is an unregulated monopoly and as a conseqeunce the industry suffers from inefficiency, exploits consumers, manipulates public policy and suffers from a competitive imbalance that threatens the future of the game…. A well-crafted book that gives a good view of the inner workings of MLB and its owner-barons and provides an interesting case study of cartel behavior. The intended audience is clearly broader than that of academic sports economists…. Zimbalist succeeds in making the material engaging for both economists working in this field and for non-specialists interested in the economics of baseball.” –Leo H. Kahane, Mount Holyoke College and California State University, Hayward, “Journal of Economic Literature”, 6/1/2004
“These days a typical owner will rake in big money, claim he’s nearly broke and then threated to move unless his host city subsidizes a new stadium at taxpayer expense. If you think this is an exaggeration, read Zimbalist’s brilliantly researched study on the economics of the game.” –Charles Hirshberg, “Sports Illustrated”, 5/26/2003
“One of the great strengths of May the Best Team Win is the way in which Zimbalist clearly unravels the workings of various markets –labour, product, broadcasting and stadiums –and how they combine to make up the industry that is baseball. He provides a detailed analysis of collective bargaining in baseball…. Provides a very readable account of major issues associated with the recent operation of American baseball. It systematically examines various peculiarities and nuances of the operation of this legal cartel. Its major contribution lies in its analyses of the impact of recent collective bargaining deals, the various revenue sharing mechanisms they contain to enhance competitive balance and the moving feast that is broadcasting rights…. Highly recommended for all those interested in the economics of professional team sports and the operation of cartels.” –Braham Dabscheck, “Economic Record”, 6/1/2004