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'We want it to be not only iconic, but first class': Mike Barrett on baseball in Portland

The following is a transcript of the interview. The questions are paraphrased. Barrett's answers are as close to verbatim as possible, with minor edits for clarity.

PORTLAND, Ore. — Mike Barrett, a managing partner and spokesperson for Portland Diamond Project, joined Dwight Jaynes and Aaron Fentress on their radio show Wednesday afternoon.

Barrett talked about the group that's trying to bring an MLB team to Portland.

The following is a transcript of the interview. The questions are paraphrased. Barrett's answers are as close to verbatim as possible, with minor edits for clarity.

Dwight: Who’s the owner? Who’s got all this money to do this?

Mike: It won’t be announced for a while.

Dwight: There is an owner, right? Someone who has a few bucks?

Mike: I’m trying to sit here and think …

Aaron: Is there a single person or a group?

Mike: We want it to be, certainly some local. That part of it, we don’t know. But that is there. People can rest assured. We’re not throwing this against the wall just to see if it sticks. We wouldn’t be putting our credibility on the line like we are, and our futures, for something completely unknown in that regard.

Dwight: A lot of money has been spent already, I’m assuming. You’ve announced that you’ve got an attorney, you’ve talked to the architects, you’ve done a lot of exploration real estate-wise.

Mike: None of this is cheap, as you say. The architecture firms, both the one we’ve used nationally and locally. TVA [Architects], they’ve been phenomenal. We’re all doing this on faith that this could happen. We were in New York for a meeting in September and went to a Yankees game. I’d forgotten what a family-friendly sport baseball is. And you talk about the affordability of it. We sat there and just said, can you imagine? With our weather in the summertime, those long summer nights? A ballpark in Portland, done correctly, it can be so much more than a ballpark. We can help address issues. We can make it a district in Portland. You get to a point where, and we’re going to face this, there is politics and all this stuff that’s going to be played out publicly, these battles. The part that we want and the part that got us starting this, is the fun that it is. The fun that baseball is. The fun that it brings in our most beautiful time of the year, when our tourism is at the highest. We want it to be a regional draw. I think the people who haven’t been around baseball and haven’t attended it, if you can get your imagination around what this can be for the city. If you can get past a lot of the difficult parts of it, the end play is worth it for us.

Aaron: Are you expecting a lot of resistance, from the city and politicians?

Mike: There’s going to be some, but because we’re not going to make a big ask of anybody, as our press release said, we don’t intend on going to the legislature and asking. The one thing that the last group did was leave us with a great bond of $150 million, on player salaries, that has not been activated. That is a great gift they left us, and we tip our cap to that previous group, and we’ve talked to those guys at times. There’s going to be, certainly, some back and forth, and some things to work through, but we hope at the end of the day, they capture the vision the same way we did.

Dwight: Can you build a ballpark here without a retractable dome?

Mike: We haven’t gotten into that yet, and we’re not doing it yet, but I cannot wait to show what we’ve come up with. We were in Kansas City (where Populous Architects is based, a firm retained by Portland Diamond Project that has designed nearly two dozen ballparks) a couple months ago and we were going through some studies both economically and weather-related. Portland has one of the lowest rainfall totals of any major league city during the season. But you do have April and you do have October. So yeah, we’ve come to the conclusion that that’s the way it’s going to have to be. It’s going to have to be retractable. What we’ve come up is unlike anything you’ve seen before. Depending on the property you ultimately land, the parks will be specific to those sites. But the one I’m thinking of is very, very cool. They’re all cool.

Aaron: What’s the timeline for all of this?

Mike: We’ve been in touch with the people we need to be in touch with, in terms of saying give us a little bit of time to work through this. But a ballpark takes 2 1/2 to 3 years to build. It’s a big project. So, that’s kind of the timeline once you get a shovel in the ground. When does a shovel get in the ground? I wish I could answer that.

Dwight: Let’s talk about the Portland Public Schools site.

Mike: Infrastructure-wise, it’s a great site. The thing about Portland is the river has never really been activated. There’s so much more we can do in terms of really doing something on that east side. They’ve done some of the east-side walk along the river, but when you think about the cool things that can be done there in terms of water taxi – parking in other places for the game and hopping on a water taxi to get to the stadium. On a beautiful summer night, when you’ve got the food-truck culture? We’ve looked into all that stuff because we want it to be not only iconic, but first class. Be everything that Portland is about to be represented there. Sustainable. Ballparks are different now. That’s the one thing we’ve learned going through this process. We toured SunTrust [Park] in Atlanta. They’re doing different things now. In some ballparks, the luxury suites aren’t maybe as popular as they were. These millennials, they like to move in packs, they don’t like to sit in one spot. The right field in Atlanta is this big bar area where people cruise around and that’s their most popular spot. There’s some cool things we can do that would make this the next great ballpark.

Dwight: Let’s take a look at the westside location, the ESCO property. It’s the site of the old Vaughn Street ballpark where the Beavers played for 75-80 years.

Mike: 1901 was the site. If you walk along Vaughn, you’ll still see a plaque on the street which commemorates it. There are some great stories we’ve dug up. You know, Ted Williams was discovered while taking batting practice there by the Red Sox. When you look back at some of the great teams that played there in the early going, they’re romantic stories. Baseball is a romantic story, and that’s a great spot for that reason. Talking to a lot of the baseball historians in town, they remember that and remember going there. That’s cool in its own right. The two sites, and the reason for the release, and we weren’t going to come out this early, honestly. But we knew when you make an offer on a site, everything goes public. So we were forced out quicker than we wanted to. But, those aren’t the only two sites. Those are the two that have been offered on. I just want to make sure that people are aware of that. There are others.

Dwight: Is there a favorite site?

Mike: I go back and forth. Yeah, there are. Each of us have our own. But we start to talk and I flip to something else that I like better about the other site. That’s the cool part, though. One of them is more of a neighborhood park. One of them you could land a spaceship in. When we actually get an offer that’s accepted and start working down the road, when we can start sharing some of the designs, I think people will get really excited.

Aaron: So there’s been some talk about the A’s and the Rays maybe being in play, or expansion. Which is more likely?

Mike: Baseball is very reluctant to relocate. They always have been, very traditional in some ways. We’re aware there are two teams that are struggling and need some help. But we also know that Commissioner Manfred has talked a lot about expansion and that they’re going to get to 32 [teams]. So we sit at a rare time in baseball history, that there are opportunities, and there isn’t just one. That’s the good part. That’s why we’re confident. Commissioner Manfred said in Seattle in September, we need another Pacific time zone team, and you guys can figure out the options as well as I can, when he was asked about Portland specifically. That has us feeling confident. They need another West Coast city, and we’ve got the most sophisticated effort that has gone farthest to this point.

Aaron: Will the Mariners be an obstacle?

Mike: They can be. I wouldn’t expect them to. [Mariners majority owner] John Stanton, when he was down in Portland, said he would see some excitement in the rivalry. There are going to be challenges along the way, certainly.

Dwight: Would you start building this without getting assurance you’re getting a team?

Mike: That’s a good question. We’ve talked about that. There have been test cases where that has worked. Oklahoma City is a great model. If they don’t have the building, the Hornets never move there after the hurricane, and they never get the Sonics. I hate to bring that up, because it’s a touchy subject and we all lived through that. I don’t know the answer to that question. Yet.

Dwight: A lot of people aren’t familiar with the modern ballpark concept, in terms of a mixed-use development right alongside the ballpark.

Mike: Yes. Completely. That’s what we came out with in the release yesterday, we’re talking about housing units, and trying to help the city solve some of the challenges it’s facing. If someone on the private side can come in and do that in an area, and we respect the mayor for what he said about his priority list, if we can help him solve and check off some of those things in the priority list, we want to do that. We want it to be something that just isn’t a ballpark. This is going to be a district, and that’s what we want it to be. If we can do this to help the city address some of the challenges it’s facing, and have, oh by the way, a ballpark at the same time in this district, that would be a home run.

Dwight: What does that look like? I assume restaurants, shops, night spots, hotels?

Mike: Yes. Apartments. Workforce housing is what we’ve talked about a lot, because I know that when you start saying housing, people think high-rise, $2 million condos. We’re being very careful in how we do this, we don’t want that. There will be, certainly, some of that. But the numbers we’ve worked with, we’ve worked with CSL (Conventions, Sports & Leisure International), the leader in economic studies, they’re out of Texas, we’ve worked with them. They’ve given us some numbers and have run some numbers with us, that we were curious to see how they’d wash out. Portland has got such a unique culture, and that’s why we live here. And if we can capture some of that in the ballpark while addressing some of the needs of the city, and do it not at the expense of something else, that’s what we’re trying to get to. I know that’s a tough target to hit, but that’s what we’re trying to do.

Aaron: You’re looking at a 32,000 capacity ballpark.

Mike: The plan is 32-ish, and you can flex out to 35 or 36 for an All-Star Game or a weekend series with the Yankees. That’s been the plan. The days of the massive 55,000-60,000 seat parks just aren’t there anymore. Coors Field has pulled some seats out and put in a bar, a place where people can mingle. That’s more the model of today’s park. You don’t want to watch a game on TV, and you see 5,000 people in a 45,000-seat park and it doesn’t look very good. Not that we think we’d have that problem.

Dwight: What’s the next step? Acquisition of the property?

Mike: Yes. We hope to work with the properties that we’ve offered on which we went public with yesterday. If you can get one acquired, you go to the next steps after that. We have a government relations part of our team that is very good at working with the city and the neighborhoods. We hope to land on a solution that works for everybody and that everybody can feel they can buy into and then we go down the road from there.

Dwight: Has there been contact with the neighborhood associations in those two areas?

Mike: Not by us at this time, not by our team.

Dwight: This is a big project to put into anybody’s neighborhood. Where the Public Portland Schools site was, it used to be, as I understand it, was a thriving neighborhood in NE Portland. This would be a chance to replenish or rejuvenate that area.

Mike: Yeah, there’s a group called Albina Vision, and they’re fantastic. They’re trying to go back in there and reconstruct what that neighborhood was. We’d love to help them do that. There are some stories, if you do some research in Portland history, when the Coliseum was built in 1960, there were some big mistakes made. The African-American community, it was not fair what happened. We would love to partner in all of that. Help these neighborhoods, help that one in particular, get back close to what it was.

Dwight: You’re getting a lot of job applications, I’m sure?

Mike: It is funny who you hear from when all of this comes out. Prospective broadcasters. Everybody from the food-truck industry, because they know we’d love to have first-in-class food and bed. We want people’s minds to start going there with us and thinking about what can happen. First things first, we have not unveiled our website yet. But if people go to portlanddiamondproject.com, you can put your email address in there, that’s a way to get information and get on the list. Anyone who’s interested or a fan in this, or just curious, go to that site and that will be a good way for people to get information.

Aaron: So if it takes three years to build a park, it puts us at 2021 at the earliest. What’s realistic beyond that, because clearly it wouldn’t happen by then, probably.

Mike: You’re in the area that we’ve discussed.

Aaron: So 2020-21 or 2021-22?

Mike: That’s our hope. If we could do it tomorrow, we would. But there are steps that have to be connected. But you’re in the ballpark.

Dwight: What are you going to be doing for this team?

Mike: I don’t know. People have asked me that and I’ve said I don’t know. We’re trying to put one foot in front of the other. We know there are going to be some challenges. But we believe in this enough that we’ve all put everything on hold. Craig Cheeks’ name has come out, he was a former executive at Nike. He’s the managing director. Jason Atkinson, four-term Senator from Oregon. Jason has been so valuable to us. He’s been an invaluable part of this group, very connected in Salem as well. These guys are all doing this for the right reasons. We’re local guys and we all want to see this happen. We hope our dream is realized and we welcome others to dream along with us.

Jared Cowley is a digital producer at KGW who writes about the Portland Trail Blazers and other topics. You can follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/jaredcowley.

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