If you build it, they will come

The 2011-2016 Clark County Traffic Improvement Program (TIP) adopted by the County Commissioners in November 2010 includes 111 projects. Each project on the list has been evaluated and includes a weighted score from a potential of 100 points. The top-rated project, with a weighted score of 65, is Northeast 119th Street from 72nd Avenue to 87th Avenue. For the folks living in that portion of the county, I suspect they are very excited the road is being improved. For those living in other parts of the county who don’t regularly drive on 119th, it is a project that likely means little to them. The same sort of specific value judgment based on use could be made for any one of the projects on the list. However, what I find interesting is that every property owner in the county pays nearly $2 per $1000 of property value into the Clark County Road Fund.

Full transparency, I was struggling for an analogy to address a criticism of the proposed facility for the Clark College campus that would allow Vancouver to become the home of a short season Single-A minor league baseball team.

I think of the county’s TIP five-year plan as at least a double, if not a home run – pun intended.

The premise, at least in part, for the road fund is that it’s in the public’s best interest to have drivable roads. Therefore, we all contribute to their upkeep and creation. I suggest the same can be said, in terms of “our best interest,” of the proposed Clark College campus facility. Just as we support libraries, schools and ports, we support a number of community components though fees and taxes even though we don’t always use them personally or receive a direct benefit from them.

The Yakima Bears, a minor league baseball team owned by Short Season LLC, recently proposed to begin discussions with local officials to move the team from Yakima to Vancouver. In a multi-dimensional financing plan, the team owners suggested local financing could be accomplished with an admissions tax (the proposers prefer to call it a fee rather than a tax).

Local reaction was immediate and somewhat polar. Not surprisingly, baseball fans were ecstatic. Those not as interested in baseball were equally as immediate in their reasons why it shouldn’t happen. Many of those falling under the “not interested” category said they shouldn’t be required to pay anything for a new facility since they would likely never use it. But similar to the road fund, we don’t always get the direct use of what we pay for.

Another loud anti-sentiment was along the lines of, “the team is a for-profit organization so let them build the facility if they want one.” Being free enterprise enthusiasts, we see the basic logic in this position. However, there are a couple of key components missing from this line of reasoning. As envisioned, the facility will be a community asset and not simply an asset of the relocating team. After all, the team would use the facility only 38 times a year. Other anticipated users would be Clark College, youth baseball and softball teams, soccer teams and potentially musical groups for concerts. Of course each of these users would be required to pay a fee for use – but that is what the critics are suggesting should happen.

At the risk of mixing metaphors, a movie once suggested, “if you build it, they will come.” Not the most prudent approach, but you see where I’m going.

Have the discussions, answer the questions and build the facility with an eye on maximizing community use. At the end of the day, we suspect the decision will be to build it, bringing professional baseball to Southwest Washington.

And if we do build it, I’m one that will come.