PORTLAND, Ore. — On Tuesday morning, MLS Commissioner Don Garber walked into a hovel that was once PGE Park.
In just more than six months, though, the former minor-league baseball park will be transformed into what the Portland Timbers hope will be one of the most unique and authentic soccer environments in the country—just in time for their inaugural MLS season, which they kick off in 2011 with fellow expansion side Vancouver Whitecaps.
Garber said he was surprised by how quickly renovations have been taking place at the stadium where the Portland Timbers have played USSF D-2 matches this season.
“Hearing the sound of earth moving, it’s music to my ears," the Commissioner said.
For Garber, the ceremony was another step in the success of MLS. He reminisced about teams playing in American football stadiums in 1996. There was also noticible excitement in his voice when he said that the Timbers will be the 11th team playing in a soccer-specific stadium, just 15 years later.
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“We’re literally changing the landscape of professional sports in North America with these projects,” Garber said. “Portland is really at the sweet spot of all that activity.”
Timbers owner and president Merritt Paulson talked about the journey to bring MLS to Portland.
“This doesn’t happen without our fans,” Paulson said. “The Timbers Army were there for us every step of the way, pushing this thing forward.”
Garber and Paulson joined Portland city commissioners Randy Leonard and Nick Fish in jamming shovels with golden heads into the ground before scooping up piles of dirt to throw onto the green Astroturf.
“This is my favorite part of the job,” Garber said. “You’ve spent years of working on a project, to actually finally break the ground, even if it’s ceremonial, it just shows that everything we’re doing has a purpose.”
Paulson said this moment was something he been dreaming about since negotiations to bring MLS to Portland began a few years ago.
“It almost feels like a culmination,” Paulson said. “Yet in the same token, it’s really a beginning. It’s a little surreal, but, it’s good.”
Among the improvements to the existing park include a full seating bowl surrounding the field, a new club lounge, an expanded public entry plaza, a state-of-the-art video scoreboard, a new team store and new player locker rooms and training facilities.
“This is going to be a very, very passionate soccer market,” Garber said. “It will rival Seattle, and what we’ll see [about] Vancouver and Toronto. It will really set, in many ways, a new level of what can happen in a new city where you’ve got a great downtown stadium and a lot of soccer history.
"[The] true end game will happen in March of next year. But, the formal process started today.”
Timbers MLS stadium renovation by the numbers (courtesy of Portland Timbers media relations)
613,514 pounds of rebar
175,000 hours worked on the project
172,316 square feet of total space added or remodeled
96,000 square feet of new playing surface
27,360 linear feet of piles installed for foundations
20,122 square feet of precast seating bowl
7,020 cubic yards of excavation and fill
6,595 cubic yards of concrete
2,722 linear feet of handrail
810 tons of structural steel
261 new field lighting bulbs
200 peak manpower on project