The Portland Timbers on Wednesday released renderings of the long-awaited proposed expansion of Providence Park. The proposal would expand the stadium by approximately 4,000 seats and raise the capacity of Providence Park to approxomately 25,000 perhaps as soon as the beginning of the 2019 MLS season.
The increased capacity would bring Providence Park above the median effective capacity for MLS stadia, and would make it comparable in size to Orlando City’s new stadium and New York’s Red Bull Arena.
The expansion plan calls for a 93-foot-tall, four-level addition to the east side of Providence Park that would be steeply tiered. Flanked by two large columns, the proposed east-side expansion was in part inspired by La Bombonera, the home of Argentine giants Boca Juniors, known for its distinctive vertical stand towering over the east touchline.
The Timbers first began considering stadium expansion in 2012 when it became clear that demand for tickets at Providence Park would outstrip supply for the foreseeable future. Those deliberations became more concrete just weeks after the Timbers won MLS Cup in December 2015 when Timbers officials met with Allied Works Architecture, an architecture firm based only a few blocks down Morrison Street from Providence Park.
Although other firms had tried and failed to convince the Timbers that a significant east-side expansion project was architecturally and economically viable, the product of Allied Works’ efforts to come up with a major expansion plan is the $50-millon, privately-funded project that the Timbers are now prepared to present to the City of Portland for approval.
The next step of the approval process is for the City of Portland’s Design Commission to review the plans. That process will publicly begin during a meeting on May 11, 2017, in the Lincoln Room at the CH2M Hill Building at 2020 SW Fourth Avenue. Although a final schedule has not yet been set for that meeting, if the meeting proceeds in the order currently posted it appears likely discussion of the proposed Providence Park expansion will take place in the late-afternoon or evening.
In addition to the advice and consent of the Design Commission, the Timbers will also have to obtain the approval of the Portland City Council to amend the agreements by which the Timbers lease and operate the City-owned stadium, and to obtain permission to embark on the expansion project. City Council approval is never a sure thing and will undoubtedly include input from neighborhood interests that have deeply scrutinized Providence Park projects in the past, but, in light of the fact that the Timbers propose to privately finance the stadium expansion, the process is unlikely to be as protracted and contentious as the July 2009 approval of the $31-million publicly-financed renovation deal.
That is, at least in part, because the City of Portland stands to gain considerably from the project even though the Timbers will solely be responsible for paying for the renovation. In addition to the economic benefit to the City of additional people drawn into town for Timbers and Thorns games, the City would likely see a considerable windfall from the privately-funded expansion in the form of increased ticket-tax revenue.
As part of the public-fianancing arrangement for the 2010 renovation of the stadium, the City is entitled not only to rent from the club for the use of the building, but also to the proceeds of a tax on all tickets sold to events at the stadium. The expanded seating capacity, therefore, would lead to increased tax revenue for City coffers as a result of the financing extended by the City for the 2010 renovation. Given the larger-than-expected return-on-investment that the City has enjoyed from Providence Park to date, the opportunity to take in further revenue from the stadium without any additional financial commitment seems likely to be attractive to the City.
If the City-approval process proceeds quickly, the Timbers could start construction on Phase I of the expansion project as early as the 2017-2018 offseason. Under that plan, on-site construction would largely pause during the 2018 season, with the current east-side seating and concessions remaining open and the current roof remaining in place. Construction would resume on Phase II in the 2018-2019 offseason, and, if all goes according to plan, be completed by spring of 2019. If, however, the approval process takes some time (as would not be atypical for such a proposal) the project would be pushed back a year.
The first level of the proposed east-side expansion would be made up of club-style premium seats in a similar mold to the current Key Bank Club. The second and third levels of the proposed expansion would be standard seating, although, in light of the sideline orientation and proximity to the field, those seats would likely provide some of the best views of the field in the stadium and, accordingly, seem likely to land near the top of the standard-seat pricing scale. The top level of the proposed addition would hold a group-seating area sizable enough to handle much larger groups than the stadium is currently capable of accommodating, but would also be capable of subdivision to accommodate multiple smaller groups.
Although the bulk of the expansion would lie within the current fence-line of the stadium, two stairwells would extend off the back of the expansion over the 18th Avenue sidewalk to ease ingress and egress to the new stand and to create an arcade over the current sidewalk. The roof of the expanded east side, which under the current proposal would be transparent, would be considerably larger than the current roof, and would cover some portions of the east side of the stadium that are not presently sheltered from the elements.
If the plan is ultimately approved the Timbers anticipate first offering current season-ticket holders the ability to relocate to the new seats. The Timbers would then proceed into the 13,000-person season-ticket waiting list to fill the remaining capacity both within the new stand as well as those seats in the existing stadium vacated by relocating season-ticket holders.
The proposed expansion would also provide a shot in the arm for the Timbers’ revenue base, something that is becoming increasingly important in MLS, a league that is ramping up spending on player salaries, transfer fees, youth academies, and second-team USL affiliates, as well as NWSL — although considerably behind MLS in this respect — is beginning to take steps to raise player salaries and meaningfully develop youth academies. Expanding Providence Park to approximately 25,000 seats, including a significant portion of lucrative premium seats, would make the stadium a more viable home for the Timbers through the 2035 end of their lease with the City and likely beyond.
From the Timbers’ perspective, therefore, the intent of the expansion project is two-fold: First, to expand their revenue base to further support development of the club; and to secure the downtown stadium as the Timbers’ and Thorns’ home for the foreseeable future; and second, to relieve some pressure on a season-ticket waiting list that has felt like purgatory for many fans who want Timbers season tickets.
But on Wednesday the stadium expansion that has largely been abstract for the better part of a year became considerably more concrete. And if the Timbers can successfully navigate the City-approval process, it may become reality within a couple years.