Vancouver’s love of baseball wasn’t debated this morning as the board of Clark County commissioners agreed to sign a non-binding letter of intent with Short Season LLC which hopes to relocate the Yakima Bears minor league team to Vancouver. But commissioners and the public in attendance did debate the proposed finance plan for a new stadium to house the team.
The plan calls for the county to enact an admissions entertainment tax to cover 70 percent of the stadium’s financing while the Short Season group would cover the remaining 30 percent.
The letter of intent agreed brings no contractual obligation for the county and only works to establish the roles of the involved parties should the stadium plan move forward, according to chief civil deputy prosecutor Bronson Potter.
In those roles, the Short Season group, which is a California limited liability company, would finance, construct and operate the stadium. The county would consider an admissions tax to cover the public portion of the stadium financing, and Clark College would enter into a ground lease agreement with Short Season for the stadium’s proposed location at Clark’s current ball field.
Commissioners Steve Stewart and Marc Boldt voted in favor of signing the letter and Commissioner Tom Mielke was opposed.
The letter of intent was light on specifics, but Potter said the specifics of the proposed project would be discussed as future agreements come before the board. He said those future discussions will focus on a development agreement and the official consideration of an admissions tax.
In voting no, Mielke said he wished the letter were more inclusive. He said, “I think the general consensus is that we all like baseball,” but he went on to say the issue for him is the project’s financing. Mielke said taxes should be for basic public services.
Stewart said baseball is a great opportunity for the community but added that “the devil is in the details,” and said signing the letter of intent is a step toward exploring those details.
Many of the public comments came from citizens who also spoke at the Vancouver City Council meeting Monday night as council members heard the first formal presentation from Short Season about its plans.
But at the commissioners’ meeting, former Clark County Commissioner Betty Sue Morris said she likes the people behind the baseball team and the stadium plan, but added that there needs to be a better finance proposal.
Morris called the proposed admissions tax a general fund tax that could have a better use than baseball. She also expressed concern over risk to the county if the city of Vancouver decides against signing an inter-local agreement with the county.
The new executive director of Identity Clark County, Paul Montague, told commissioners that baseball would be beneficial for the long-term quality of life in the community. He said baseball would land somewhere in the Portland metro area and asked why shouldn’t it be in Vancouver?
Montague said baseball would be a draw for business because it’s something for employees and their families to enjoy, but also that it’s important to explore a variety of funding options.
Potter told the commissioners that the letter of intent does not exclude exploring other funding options, but the letter does specifically identify an admissions tax as a funding option.
The commissioners tentatively scheduled a work session on the admissions tax for Aug. 24 at 10 a.m.