East Multnomah County rolls out red carpet for MLB
A Portland developer is swinging for the fences with a proposal that not only sets the stage to entice Major League Baseball to Oregon, but also brings needed housing, industry and parks into Rockwood.
Barry Smith, an architect, has drafted plans to create MultCO Baseball Park at Multnomah County's Vance Property, 90 acres between 182nd and 190th Avenues. The county has been soliciting ideas for the site, and Smith's proposal follows a growing belief that Major League baseball could choose to move into Oregon via a suburb stadium.
"Baseball needs Oregon," Smith said.
He was drawn to East Multnomah County partly due to a friendship with Lynn Lashbrook, who has been trying to secure baseball in Oregon for more than 25 years. Lashbrook and Jeffrey DeBois sparked the conversation around the Majors coming to Gresham in April, touting the effectiveness of a regional team situated in the suburbs.
"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."
As Lashbrook and DeBois brainstormed how to get East County into the conversation, Smith put pen to paper, coming up with his proposal. His project, crafted under True Master LLC, goes far beyond just sports and Vance Property. Smith created a sweeping vision for Rockwood that transforms 250 acres through development, including filling in Knife River's defunct sand and gravel quarry.
"When I started putting this together, I thought 'This is not just about baseball — it's about who we are and our future,'" Smith said. "Now is the time to reclaim these quarries and develop something special on the eastside."
His plans are headlined by MultCO Park, a 38,000 seat stadium with views of Mount Hood from homeplate.
But the designs also include New Generation Factories, 3.25 million square feet of production, research and design facilities; about 7,500 new households for workforce, community and affordable housing; a festival marketplace surrounded by hospitality facilities; MultCO Stadium, an expandable 40,000 seat stadium for football, soccer and rugby; and 45 acres of parks and recreation.
"They told me if we want to draw Major League Baseball, the proposal has to be as competitive as if we were trying to go after the Olympics," Smith said. "So I wanted to pitch something truly special."
Relocation or expansion
The proposal comes at a perfect time as uncertainty swirls around the Oakland Athletics.
This week the organization visited stakeholders in Las Vegas as Sin City attempts to lure another professional team from the Bay — following a successful relocation of the Oakland Raiders to Vegas.
Smith said a move to Vegas wouldn't be in the best interest of the A's, as the city would distract the organization and players from achieving the ultimate goal — winning trophies.
"You put baseball players in Las Vegas for 81 home games and they won't be focused," Smith said. "The star players will vanish in the city with all the entertainment available."
It is unknown where the A's will eventually end up, as Las Vegas is one of six cities that has been mentioned as a possible suitor. The team is also looking to win approval for a new waterfront ballpark in Oakland, so this all could be performative to gain leverage over city officials. Oakland City Council will vote on the project on July 20.
A contingent from the A's will also be visiting Oregon next month to talk baseball.
Even if the A's end up elsewhere, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred is talking expansion. The owners seem set to seek out infusions of cash amid pandemic woes, and adding new teams into growing media markets would be a way to achieve that goal.
Smith believes it would behoove the MLB to bring more baseball to the west coast, and teams like the Trail Blazers and Timbers have shown Multnomah County residents are eager to back local sports.
"The future of baseball media contracts is not Monday nights on ESPN — it's Fox Sports NW airing games every day of the week and selling it to the local market," Smith said. "Plus a team in Portland would automatically have an enticing rivalry with (the Seattle Mariners)."
There were also early discussions about relocating a Minor League team to Gresham, potentially the Eugene Emeralds — allegedly baseball doesn't want the Ems playing out of the University of Oregon stadium any more. But baseball has a clause that stopped that plan — the distance between two home plates for minor league teams cannot be within 25 miles. The proposed Vance Property Stadium in Rockwood would have been too close to the Hillsboro Hops.
"After learning that, we refocused on the Majors," Smith said.
MLB leadership will most likely meet to discuss expansion this winter, and with this proposal it sets the stage for them to consider a move into Oregon. There is a long list of potential owners, but not as many viable sites ready for development.
"I never want Oregon to be in a situation where a team is looking to expand or move and there is no viable option available," Smith said.
More than a ballpark
Smith's proposal for how to develop Vance Property could move forward with or without an MLB stadium serving as the centerpiece.
"In the proposal, baseball is only about 20% of the project, so it doesn't live or die with a new ballpark," Smith said.
If the MLB fails to materialize, Smith would leave that space open for future development. In the meantime it could become a greenspace with paths for walking. The plot could also host events as a fairgrounds, drawing visitors into Rockwood.
He also created a "cone of silence" for the ballpark — a way to keep the sightlines to the mountain open using strategically placed greenspaces. The roof of the stadium and other design elements could also be used to direct and dissipate any sounds during games. Again, if the stadium never comes to be, that cone would function as a park.
"Baseball would be great, but this is about our community," he said. "We can figure out all the other stuff that then makes a ballpark even more of an asset in the future."
In all his proposal represents about a $6 billion investment into East Multnomah County.
"East County needs jobs and needs housing," Smith said.
The industrial space would follow a trend that has been happening across Gresham, with more large companies choosing to relocate or expand into the eastside due to the city's business-friendly Enterprise Zone program. Smith penciled into his plans enough industrial space to account for almost 8,000 new jobs — not including workers at the two stadiums.
Smith imagines how easy it would be for a new company moving into one of the warehouse spaces to recruit employees — how does a baseball game within walking distance after your shift sound? Or the wraparound amenities that could be provided to the residents who rent an apartment at the complex, with safe parks and entertainment at the doorstep.
He wants a mixture of housing options, from single-family homes to large apartment complexes. Parking would go underneath, and the proposal includes best-practices of all types of income levels with wraparound services.
The designs add two miles of roadway and light rail improvements, including a MAX Blue Line spur that would loop at the ballpark along Southeast 190th.
Smith also created space for a second stadium to be built as well — one that could be used for soccer, football, track and field, or rugby. His designs would sink it down into one of the reclaimed quarry pits, keeping it from ruining any views of the mountain.
People shouldn't expect a groundbreaking anytime soon — all of this is speculative. Multnomah County isn't sure what direction to take with Vance Property, and a decision isn't likely anytime soon. But Smith is ready to get serious with his proposal.
"I need surveys to move forward with this project — soil and environmental reports — all the information so I can refine the plans," Smith said.
And with or without baseball, he believes this project would be a homerun for Gresham.
"One of the reasons I got involved with this in the first place is because how excited I get thinking about what this would mean for East County," Smith said.
Set for development
Vance Property is one of the largest undeveloped areas in East Multnomah County.
Located along 182nd and 190th Avenues in the Rockwood and Centennial neighborhoods, the 90-acre site includes Vance Park, Vance Pit Quarry, and yards and buildings used by the county's transportation division.
The county has been planning the future of the site, and wants to hear from the community. To weigh in on the multi-year development process visit bit.ly/3bEp5fC
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