By News-Register staff • 

Grand Ronde Tribe purchases race track

Rockne Roll/News-Register##Multnomah Greyhound Park in Wood Village was recently purchased by the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde.
Rockne Roll/News-Register##Multnomah Greyhound Park in Wood Village was recently purchased by the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde.

GRAND RONDE — Tribal lobbyist Justin Martin, a former professional baseball player, thinks the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde leaders has hit a home run with its purchase of the former Multnomah Greyhound Park in Wood Village, east of Portland.

The tribe, owner and operator of the state’s dominant casino and No. 1 overall tourist attraction in its home base of Grand Ronde, declined to disclose the purchase price. However, the property went on the market earlier this year with an asking price of $11.2 million.

The move has fueled speculation the tribe is either aiming to take a potential competitive casino site off the market or develop a new casino there itself, in order to counter rival casino operations proposed on the Columbia River and across the river in Washington’s Clark County. However, he suggested it was motivated merely by a good deal on a site with lucrative development potential.

“We are looking at this property for economic diversification,” Martin said. “We can create a win-win situation for the community.

“We’re looking at what is the best use and the best purpose for this property. We’re looking at everything — whatever could drive revenues for us and the community.”

To that end, he said, “We’ve reached out to Wood Village, Fairview, Gresham, Troutdale, the Multnomah County Commission and Metro,” looking for input and ideas.

Greyhound racing in Portland dates back to 1933, and the east Multnomah County site has been associated with it since the 1950s.

In January 1956, the Multnomah Kennel Club purchased the property and announced plans to erect a new dog track with a spacious grandstand.

The facility opened in 1957 as Fairview Park. In 1978, it was renamed Murray Kemp Greyhound Park, in honor of the club’s founder and longtime president. In 1991, it became Multnomah Greyhound Park.

Greyhound racing peaked in local popularity in 1987, when attendance topped 600,000. But it soon began to tail off.

The track’s closure was announced in December 2004, marking the end of greyhound racing in Oregon.

Two Lake Oswego businessmen proposed to develop a $490 million casino and entertainment complex on the site. However, voters trounced an authorizing measure 68 percent to 32 percent in 2010.

Another try was made two years later, via Measures 82, amending the state constitution to authorize privately owned casinos, and 83, specifically authorizing development of a private casino complex called The Grange in Wood Village. Voters trounced them as well.

“I think this takes a private casino effort out of the game,” Martin said. “Millions of dollars were spent fighting that effort.”

Asked about the tribe pursuing development of a casino on the site, he said, “We’re not going to rule gambling out, if conditions ever change in Oregon, or if we see revenues leaving the state because of other gaming interests in Washington.”

But while he said, “We’re not taking it off the table entirely,” he also said, “It would be a challenging process that would take a lot of time. We’ve been through that.”

Two Canadian firms backed the Measure 82 and 83 campaigns. They spent about $5.5 million trying to sell a casino to voters as a producer of jobs and tax revenue.

Opponents, led by the Grand Ronde Tribe, spent more than $2 million on the opposition campaign. It enjoyed the backing of then-governor John Kitzhaber, who said passage would break a compact the state had with its indigenous tribes.

 At the point, the tribe is looking at options unrelated to gaming, Martin said.

“It’s an aged-out property,” he said. “We need to find a good community solution.

He said the tribe has been plowing casino revenue into properties and companies in a concerted effort to diversify its casino-dominated revenue stream, and the purchase fits with that. “The property lends itself to economic diversification, and it fits within what we have done before, related to our goals and objectives,” he said.

“We have to look out for future generations. We’re aggressive in terms of diversifying our economy.”

Tribal Council Chair Reyn Leno echoed that, saying economic diversification has long been a priority of for the tribe’s leaders and members. “We’ve worked hard since our tribe was restored to become self-sufficient, and to provide essential programs for our citizens,” he said.

“At Grand Ronde, we always take a community approach. So we want to be as inclusive as possible in looking at the opportunities associated with this property.”

Bill Peterson, city manager in Wood Village, said he had a series of meetings with tribal officials as they were negotiating purchase of the property from previous owner Art McFadden. He said it carries “town center” zoning.

According to the city’s website, that zoning is designed to encourage “convenient living, working and shopping through a well-designed mixture of commercial, residential and employment uses.” Special requirements are designed to ensure commercial developments include a high-density housing component, along with open space and good pedestrian connections.

Peterson characterized the grandstand as an eyesore that needs to come down. He said he has no idea what plans the tribe might come up with for the site, but said members of the city leadership and larger community are anxious to see something positive happen.

“I’m choosing to believe their statement that their goal is to diversify their economic holdings in an effort to benefit tribal membership,” Peterson said. And he said that matches the community’s needs perfectly.

“It is important to the future of our community,” he said. “It can’t be a tax-exempt property."

Peterson said the grandstand, which has deteriorated badly and been heavily vandalized over the years, has been declared an “attractive nuisance.” So the city is eager to see it demolished.

“It’s a dangerous building,” he said. “It’s pretty well ripped up.”