The trials and tribulations of Little League in the Parkrose district are certainly not going to come as much of a surprise to anyone. At least, not after the raft of recent coverage the story got from KGW and KATU. The disrepair of Bob St. Aubin Stadium and the field on East Burnside Street near 136th Avenue has gotten so bad, it’s famous.
Now, after over a year of having nobody looking after the property and no teams using it for playing or practice, Parkrose Little League is selling the property. Green Canopy, a company with offices in Seattle and Portland and development projects in both cities, is negotiating a purchase of the land, with plans to build housing on it.
Melissa Fritz is the president of Parkrose Little League. She’s had children in the Parkrose school district and sports programs and has been volunteering her time to the league for more than 12 years, she said.
“Liability-wise, we just couldn’t afford it,” says Fritz of the idea of getting the field back into playing shape and maintaining it. “We paid over $1,500 for insurance just to use one field as our main field [this year].” She went on to explain that the cleanup of the field, requiring remediation services due to the presence of used needles and other drug paraphernalia, was simply too costly. Essentially the city had long ago ceded the field to the squatters who were littering it with cans, needles and other things kids shouldn’t be playing baseball amongst.
“I get calls constantly from neighbors, and my biggest thing is the safety of the kids,” says Fritz. “When a kid comes in from the outfield with a hypodermic needle stuck in his cleat? That’s cause for alarm. When a coach drives up with a team and a woman is shooting up in the bleachers? That’s cause for alarm. It’s a constant fight.”
Selling the field seems like an obvious and uncontroversial move. Aaron Fairchild, CEO of Green Canopy, spoke to the Memo about the potential sale.
“What we’ve been receiving from the community is a lot of support and a lot of excitement around this,” says Fairchild. “Since Portland’s laws have changed, allowing homeless camps on city parks, and given the housing crisis and where folks are at with that, our intention is to build a [net] zero-energy community that has homes that are accessible to working-class families in that community.”
But not everyone in the community was so supportive. One neighbor, Mary Lou Zimmerman, isn’t very excited about the whole situation. She’s lived near the field for more than 40 years and says since the team stopped using it, nobody’s taken care of the field. In her view, the lack of care from the Little League precipitated the squatter takeover. She’s called the police herself numerous times, and when she saw the report that it was being sold to developers, she didn’t understand the situation.
“How can they sell it out from under the kids?” Zimmerman asks with some surprise. It may seem like a weird question, considering nobody’s been playing on the field. But the reason she is surprised is because, as she says simply, “That’s what it was donated for.”
It turns out, when the field was donated more than 50 years ago, there was talk of a covenant being attached to the deal; that the league could have the field for nothing (or a nominal fee), in perpetuity, and the only stipulation was that it must always be used as a baseball field—otherwise, ownership of it was to be transferred to the city for it to become a park.
This would, of course, be a major sticking point in the sale of the field, particularly if Parkside Little League (as the league is now called since a merger with Lakeside) is going to sell the field to a developer that’s not going to be building a new baseball field (which they are) and they were going to simply pocket the profits (which they’re reportedly not). Especially if neither the league nor Green Canopy had cleared the sale with the St. Aubins, the family for whom the stadium is named and who arranged the original deal.
Both Green Canopy and Melissa Fritz stated that attempts were made, but Kathé Lauderback (née St. Aubin) says the family was never contacted, to the best of her knowledge. She and her brother Bob are the two remaining children of Bob (Sr.), who was basically the father of the field and the engine behind its creation. She is also upset by the sale and confirms the rumor of the covenant.
“The deed on the property was written so that if Little League was not being played there anymore, the property would go to the city to be made into a park,” says Lauderback. “When I heard yesterday that they’re selling it, first, I take offense to that. Second, what would [Parkside] Little League do with the money? That’s a lot of money.”
For their part, Parkside Little League says it plans to build a new field on a site donated by Helensview High School, as well as spreading some money around to other Parkrose district recreational sports like volleyball and football. The lack of specificity of where the money is going will certainly pique the interest of critics of the sale.
“This is something very important, and we need to do it right,” says Fritz, “but something else we talked about as a board is how we could help other sports in Parkrose. We’ve lost football, we’ve outsourced volleyball … so we wanted to help with that.”
Fritz mentioned the relative strength of youth sports programs in David Douglas, Riverdale, Centennial and other surrounding districts, compared to Parkrose.
“We compete with Cal Ripken, with American Legion, with JBO; our numbers our dwindling. And we’re begging for help,” says Fritz of their desperation.
Critics of the sale are unmoved.
“I was told the whole time I was growing up that it could never be sold,” says Lauderback.
The Memo acquired a copy of the deed from 1981, from when Mayflower Farms formally sold the field to (then-named) Parkway Little League. There’s no covenant attached to that deed, and a title search ordered by Green Canopy reportedly did not turn up one from earlier deeds either.
“I think it would have been nice for them to contact us. I think it’s kind of a waste for them to let that property go; it’s so centrally located for them,” says Lauderback, “but I guess that’s just my opinion.”
Ray Kunz has been a member of the baseball community in this neighborhood for years, both as a coach and as a parent to players in the Parkrose district. He also helped maintain the field for years with his family. The end of the field’s use for baseball also disappoints him. “I took care of that field myself; that’s why it kills me to see it the way it is. I put up that scoreboard that’s up there rotting. I hate to go down Burnside because I can’t look at it anymore,” says Kunz, “and when we got that field from them [the St. Aubins] they said that if it was a Little League field, we could do what we want to it. But when Bob passed away, they said, for a dollar it was ours, unless it wasn’t going to be a Little League [field], then it would go back to the family.” This last detail differs from Lauderback’s recollection of the bargain. She remembers the property going to the city. Either way, they both remember the stipulation that the property be used for baseball.
“My wife was president of Parkrose Little League for six years. I put three kids through the Little League, I umpired for it. I live just around the corner,” says Kunz of his involvement, “and I’m not blaming them for the merger. Little League was dying.” But he says he is sad to see the way the field has been allowed to deteriorate and be taken over by squatters.
Fritz is equally impassioned about the level at which the league had their backs to the wall.
“I’ve been a part of this league for 12 years. My son played in that league. It is a big part of our community, and we understand that, but we are not selling it lightly,” says Fritz. “We have had many conversations with the neighbors about it; the company [Green Canopy] has had many meetings.” The league held two community meetings on the issue, the second occurring on Monday, July 17. It was only then that Green Canopy even learned about the possible existence of a covenant, according to Fairchild.
“We have talked to members of that family,” says Fairchild. “It was Bob St. Aubin who helped them get a loan, and it was at that time that there was supposedly a deed restriction. And this was all passed to us by word of mouth.” But Fairchild confirms that he heard the same version that Lauderback describes, that the field would go back to the city for a park, not to the family. The confusion there may be related to the perception that the St. Aubins owned the field, when in fact they were the facilitators of the sale and caretakers, but not the titleholders.
Some of the anti-sale sentiment has also focused on Green Canopy’s status as an “outsider,” being that the company is headquartered in Seattle. But Fairchild pushes back against this assertion, noting that the company also works in the Portland housing market, has offices here and has prominent Portland business owners on their board of directors, like the owners of Powell’s Books and Ecotrust. He also stresses that the housing development would be a major boon to the area and would help working-class families find better housing opportunities, not to mention eliminate the whole problem with the squatters, which was angering neighbors in the first place. For Green Canopy, Fairchild insists, this is a social mission in addition to a business. “Something we’re really excited to do is to be able to lead with our values,” says Fairchild. But he also acknowledges the potential power of the covenant, if indeed one exists.
“If there is indeed a deed restriction in place, we’re certainly not going to fight that. We would forego [sic] to what the deed requires,” says Fairchild in an e-mail.
As of the time this article went to print, the early word from the title search undertaken by Green Canopy was that no covenant is to be found. Unless somebody emerges at the eleventh hour with some sort of superior documentation, it appears the covenant will not stand in the way of the sale. “Right now, we’re in the feasibility phase, and we haven’t even had our meeting with the city yet. We’ve been working on basic site plans with consultants down there,” says Fairchild. The deal could take as long as two years to shake out, but it will likely be finalized by the spring.
Neighborhood members like Kunz, Zimmerman and Lauderback all echoed the same sad acquiescence. Without anyone to stand in the way of the sale, which they themselves acknowledge is not a black-and-white “bad thing,” Bob St. Aubin Stadium and a half-century of baseball memories will disappear.
Lauderback acknowledges her lack of options and the sad death of the field, with nobody to take care of it and nobody to play on it. But she understands people move on.
She exhales sadly, “That seems to be the Portland way now, to turn your head and keep walking.”