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EGGERS: Time for mayor to be visionary

Having never met Charlie Hales before, he graciously agreed to meet for an interview about sports, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I know, though, that sports aren’t in his wheelhouse, so I was curious what kind of response I’d get to my questions.

Unaware? Indifferent? Dismissive?

It was none of the above as we chatted for a half-hour in his City Hall office with aides Josh Alpert and Dana Haynes at his side.

Hales is definitely not a sports guy, but he seems pretty much up to speed on what’s going on with sports in the city and with our teams. Also, he seems to understand the passion folks in the Portland area have for sports and the effect our teams can have on the psyche of the city and as an attraction for those want to live here.

The mayor has people working around him who are sports enthusiasts. I get the sense Alpert is a knowledgable fan, and I know for sure chief of staff Gail Shibley — a former U of O track athlete who was a key figure in Portland landing the 2016 World Indoor Track & Field Championships — has her finger to the pulse of what’s happening with sports in our city.

Hales believes cultural pursuits — sports, recreation, the arts, music — are every bit as important as the meat and potatoes of formal education in our schools. And that they can lead a not-so-interested student toward graduation and a successful career. He’s right on that.

I found Hales cooperative and even engaging on subjects of which he may have only a cursory understanding, which seemed to indicate he’d be willing to listen to just about any proposition that would help the city.

I’d love him to take a lead role in helping get a stadium built and luring a major league baseball or NHL team to Portland. He surprised me with his response to that very question — “I like that deal-making part of being mayor ... I love that part of the job, actually. ... Hopefully that will be useful for helping make the next big sports thing happen in Portland.”

But Hales’ line, “The Portland way is that we don’t write $100 million checks to billionaires in order to get the sports we want,” was probably the most telling statement of the interview session.

Financing of a baseball stadium would require a public-private partnership, and Hales may have little interest in driving any amount of public funds toward such a project. That’s not the ideal potion for engineering a deal to bring big-league sports to town. Sometimes there has to be a little gamble — some acuity beyond the bean-counting — to get a lot.

Pursuit of anything big sports-wise isn’t high on his agenda list, though I could see him throwing his support behind a project after some serious persuasion by other civic leaders, or evidence that there is little or no financial risk for the city.

There’s a window of opportunity now to attract the Oakland A’s, whose lease at aging Oakland Coliseum expires after next season. A visionary Portland mayor could go a long way in pushing along interest in construction of a stadium and putting together a temporary facility while the new one is being built.

I know some people think professional sports is a waste of time. I look at sports as something that brings a community together, and with the right touch, an investment that can help unemployment and fill restaurants and bars and create a lively night scene where there wasn’t one before.

I’m not sure Charlie Hales is a mayor who truly gets that. But maybe he’ll surprise me.

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Twitter: @kerryeggers