MLB dreams a home run for East County?
At first it sounds foolish — Major League Baseball coming to Gresham.
That knee jerk reaction is the same that Lynn Lashbrook and Jeffrey DeBois had when former Mayor Shane Bemis first approached them with the idea of building a stadium in East Multnomah County. Bemis was eyeing 35 acres centered around the vacant Kmart building and massive parking lot at the intersection of Northwest Burnside Road and Southeast 223rd Avenue.
Though that site is no longer viable, the vision still paints an interesting picture. An iconic all-wood stadium with unparalleled views of Mount Hood. New residential buildings, restaurants and businesses surrounding an entertainment complex anchored by the stadium. An explosion of job opportunities. Easy walking access to downtown Gresham and public transit to other communities around the region.
"Our conversations always began, why not Gresham?" asked DeBois. "We would make a list of all the reasons it wouldn't work — it was always so short."
For the last two years Lashbrook and DeBois have been brainstorming how they could bring baseball to their hometown of Gresham. They have mulled locations, kicked around potential ownership groups, and investigated everything the MLB would want from a potential city.
Another aspect that makes Gresham more appealing is the ways city leadership and nonprofit organizations have gotten a handle on social issues. Nationally, people are seeing more chaos in Portland, and the city to the west hasn't been able to find solutions for homelessness.
"What is going on in downtown Portland doesn't reflect what is happening in Gresham," Lashbrook said.
But right now nothing is set in stone. There is no millionaire owner waiting in the wings, or location primed for a groundbreaking.
Instead Lashbrook and DeBois want to bring more people into their conversations. They want to ask the question — does Gresham even want Major League Baseball? Everything else is on the table, and they want to hear from the community. They hope to aggregate design concepts, locations, wrap around activities, and more.
"I think the eastside deserves development like this," Lashbrook said. "Day and night we have been working on this — you can't get to first base without a vision."
Both Lashbrook and DeBois bring their own expertise to the project.
For anyone who has been fervently following Portland's attempts to attract Major League Baseball, Lashbrook will be a familiar name. He has been working on constructing a stadium somewhere in the region for more than 25 years.
"I grew up with baseball," he said with a smile. "In the next decade I would love to go to a Major League game in Oregon."
He has served as a consultant to a variety of groups — Portland Baseball Group, Oregon Stadium Campaign, Oregon Sports Authority and the Portland Diamond Project.
Lashbrook also has many ties to the sports world. He is the president and founder of Sports Management Worldwide, an online sports management school, and is an agent in the NFL representing more than 125 clients.
"I don't regret all my efforts and years spent trying to bring baseball to Oregon — somebody has to have a vision and speak up," Lashbrook said.
While Lashbrook has the passion for sports, DeBois' idea is about more than baseball. He sees a stadium as a vehicle to bring more development and opportunities to the neighborhood where he grew up.
DeBois has a mind for development, working as a principal broker with Planet Real Estate. He also grew up in Rockwood, and would love to see a stadium and sports complex built in that community.
"People in Rockwood are trying to create better situations and opportunities," DeBois said. "I think a stadium could be a shining star in the community as an anchor tenant, with so many other businesses thriving alongside it."
He envisions an eco-friendly campus with affordable housing and job opportunities. The stadium would draw people to the neighborhood, but then after games they would eat and shop in Rockwood.
"We could create this city within a city — bring all the positive aspects of a quality development," DeBois said. "It is thrilling to potentially create such a positive thing for the community, it keeps me up at night."
If these conversations ever reach a consensus of moving forward with constructing a stadium, it would be about a 10-year window for finding a team to relocate and making it all happen. Lashbrook said it is unlikely the MLB owners would vote on an expansion, further diluting revenue shares.
And he doesn't see these conversations about Gresham as detracting from similar efforts in Portland. A viable stadium plan on the eastside could spur officials in Portland to stop dragging their feet and make a real effort to approve their own proposal.
"Portland needs a push," Lashbrook said. "A competitor could help them finally set up a baseball site."
Gresham Mayor Travis Stovall loves the idea of bringing baseball to Gresham — he is supportive of anything that enhances the community.
"The MLB has a mass appeal, but the devil is always in the details," Stovall said.
Constructing stadiums can be tricky, especially when it represents a blending of private and public funds. Seattle learned that lesson the hard way when the Sonics NBA team were stolen away in the middle of the night after hiccups around constructing a new arena — and an owner who didn't need much prompting to flee the Pacific Northwest.
Stovall said that historically, Gresham leaders have kicked around ideas of bringing sports into the community. There was a strong push to build a NASCAR racing track north of Interstate 84, and several proposals for the former Multnomah Greyhound Park dog track in Wood Village have included sports complexes.
"Folks will have to balance the potential positives and negatives with a project like this," Stovall said. "This is the type of project that brings excitement, but we have to be cautious to deliver something of interest and value to the city."
Stovall said the first step would be to hear from the public and create a set of guidelines for what any future projects would have to include.
And even though the mayor considers himself more of a football guy, Stovall said if an MLB team ever came to Gresham, he would be a fan.
"I would absolutely be in the stands for games, it would be fun," he said.
"Take me out to the ball game," Stovall added with a laugh.
If Gresham builds it …
A stadium in Gresham would not be unprecedented, and nothing on paper shows why it wouldn't work.
"There is this built-in bias that a stadium has to be in downtown Portland," Lashbrook said. "We have nothing to lose, we just want to hear what people think."
Lashborook and DeBois believe Gresham has a lot to offer — a population of 110,000, the stadium would only be a few miles from downtown Portland and the airport, and a robust public transit system is in place with the MAX Blue Line and plans to expand bus service along Division.
The stadium could also take advantage of Opportunity Zones in Gresham, which offer tax relief on capital gains and investments.
For many years the MLB has boasted suburban stadiums set far from city centers. The Oakland Coliseum, Fulton County Stadium outside Atlanta, and Philadelphia's Veterans Stadium all come to mind as historical examples of teams pulling away from downtown cores.
The Atlanta Braves moved into Truist Park in 2017. The stadium is 10 miles northwest of downtown Atlanta and was built in a public-private partnership for about $622 million. The stadium is heralded for blending baseball, business and social activities.
For another comparison, one turns to the National Football League. Green Bay, Wisconsin, is the smallest metropolitan area with a major sports team as the home of the Green Bay Packers. Green Bay only has a population of 104,578 — the third-largest city in the state. It is also more than 100 miles from Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
As for naming a potential team, Lashbrook could see following a trend of having it reflect the entire state. The MLB team, housed in Gresham, could be named for the state — like the Minnesota Twins based in Minneapolis or the Texas Rangers based in Arlington. The name could even reflect something more nebulous, like the Golden State Warriors of the National Basketball Association.
For Lashbrook and DeBois, everything up to this point has been more of a hobby. They both have day jobs, and they have been exploring an MLB to Gresham connection as a passion project.
The next step is hearing from the community to gauge overall support. If there is excitement about the project, the duo is prepared to start crafting a more solid proposal.
"This would be as big as anything else in Oregon," Lashbrook said.
Part of the conversation
Lynn Lashbrook and Jeff DeBois want to hear from residents across East Multnomah County about their plan to bring Major League Baseball to Gresham.
They are looking for ideas on everything from location, owners, wrap-around businesses and amenities, team names, stadium designs, and so much more.
Join in the conversation at mustlovebaseball.com
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