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Could MLB team hop to new home in Hillsboro?

Supporters trying to pave way for A's to relocate in Portland


by: PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP: CHASE ALLGOOD - The Hillsboro Hops drew big crowds for Class A baseball in their maiden season of 2013. Now a group is looking at whether Hillsboro Ballpark could be expanded enough to serve as a temporary home for a major league team.Lynn Lashbrook took his pursuit of major league baseball in Portland to another level on Monday.

Lashbrook, president of Sports Management Worldwide, visited Hillsboro Ballpark and met with the architects who drew up plans for the Class A Hops' 4,500-seat stadium, which made its debut last June.

The mission was to determine if enough temporary seating could be added to increase the capacity so the stadium could serve as an interim facility for the Oakland A's, if they would choose to move, while a permanent stadium in Portland is built.

The vision of Lashbrook and Portland architect Barry Smith is to build a 38,000-seat stadium where Veterans Memorial Coliseum now stands in the Rose Quarter.

Lashbrook's report left Smith feeling optimistic about the possibilities at Hillsboro Ballpark.

"I think we can get it to a capacity of between 15,000 and 20,000," Smith says.

The idea is to create a temporary facility to house the A's for the two- to-three-year period during which a permanent stadium is constructed in Portland.

The lease of the A's at Oakland Coliseum expires after the 2015 season. The club is looking for a 10-year extension, but there are all sorts of problems involving the NFL's Oakland Raiders, who share the coliseum, and city leaders, who are struggling to decide what to do in the future.

The A's averaged 22,000 for their home games during the 2013 season. Lashbrook's idea is to get Hillsboro Ballpark big enough that the club could make a go of it there until a new stadium in Portland could open.

The city of Hillsboro signed an agreement with the Hops' ownership group for a 20-year lease, with the team paying rent of $150,000 a season. Lashbrook believes a major-league owner could provide revenue to help Hops' ownership pay off the bonds and continue to operate the Class A club while the major-league club also plays its home games at the stadium.

"You can do some day/night doubleheaders so you do not displace the Hops," Lashbrook says. After meeting with the stadium architects, "I'm convinced we can get (Hillsboro Ballpark) big enough to make it work."

Hillsboro Stadium -- a multi-use facility primarily used for high school football -- abuts Hillsboro Ballpark along the third-base line. The temporary seating, Smith says, would be built behind home plate, along the first-base line and in the outfield bleachers. Suites would be added along the first-base line.

"There's enough room there to get it all done," Smith says. "We can get creative. The way to work with an architect is, you tell me what you want. Don't ask me what you can get. Demand. They're very creative, smart people. They'll figure something out."

Lashbrook has not yet met with the couple that runs the Hops, president Mike McMurray and his wife, Laura, who serves as the club's chief financial operator. A financial agreement would have to be laid out, "but our research shows, this is doable," Lashbrook says.

A consultant on Lashbrook's project is Larry D'Amato, a faculty member at Sports Management Worldwide now retired after serving 35 years as a major-league scout. The Tualatin resident believes Hillsboro Ballpark would work, and that the A's would be wise to make a move to Portland.

"They can't go past 2015 in Oakland," D'Amato says. "The A's are displaced (at the Oakland Coliseum). They're going to have to go some place. This is an ideal situation, at least for three years, as a temporary fix until the ballpark is built in Portland.

"They're not going to be able to move to San Jose. They have a ballpark that is inadequate. They received $30 million revenue-sharing (in 2013), and the other major-league clubs aren't happy about that. They're looking for a resolution. There are owners out there who would be delighted to buy the club (from the A's). This is the situation they're looking for."

Hillsboro Ballpark is situated off Highway 26 west of Portland. Light rail runs from the Portland area to Orenco, a two-mile shuttle away. A temporary ballpark seating 15,000 to 20,000 is less than ideal for a prospective major-league owner, "but it's enough to make things work on the short term, until we can get the stadium built in Portland," Lashbrook says.

Lashbrook says if an agreement can't be worked out in Hillsboro, he will consult with ownership of Volcanoes Stadium in Salem-Keizer, home of another team in the Class A Northwest League.

"We think it works better at Hillsboro, though," he says. "There is so much money involved to make this work at reducing the bond and enhancing the stadium, we think politicians and owners will be interested. We're going to get this thing moving. Anything can happen in 15 months."

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