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Friday, April 17, 2009

City/County Urban Renewal Compromise May Pave Way For Soccer Deal

Posted by Matt Davis on Fri, Apr 17, 2009 at 4:27 PM

Mayor Sam Adams and County Commissioner Jeff Cogen have announced a partnership on a state bill to give more money back to the county from urban renewal projects—potentially paving the way for a new urban renewal district around PGE Park associated with the Major League Soccer Deal.

Cogen's boss County Chair Ted Wheeler gave City Commissioner Randy Leonard a hard time over urban renewal at the Major League Soccer hearing back in March. Wheeler was upset that Leonard wanted to use $15million in urban renewal dollars to fund the MLS renovations. For every dollar that goes to urban renewal, roughly 25 cents is withheld from the county to fund social services and schools, and the county is facing a $45million budget hole this year. There's more background on this argument in my hall monitor column, if you're interested.

Now, Cogen and Adams have stepped in to broker a compromise. They've both agreed to support a state bill that would give a bigger cut of urban renewal projects back to the county and school district.

The bill, number 3056, would effectively undo some of the negative effects of Measure 50, which passed in 1997. Measure 50 meant less money would go to the county and school district from urban renewal each year. The new bill will be discussed next Tuesday in the house sustainability committee and even has the support of urban renewal skeptics like representative Nick Kahl from Gresham, says Adams.

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URBAN RENEWAL DEAL: PDC BOSS BRUCE WARNER(left) AND COUNTY COMMISSIONER JEFF COGEN (right) at THE MULTNOMAH COUNTY BUILDING THIS AFTERNOON...

There's no guarantee that the city/county support for the bill means it will pass into law, but Oregon House Speaker Dave Hunt has assured Cogen that he will do his best to get it through as quickly as possible, Cogen says. The bill would then have to pass a vote in the senate before moving to the Governor's desk for signature into law.

Both Cogen and Adams deny that the sudden compromise is related to the MLS deal, although it could potentially sway City Commissioner Dan Saltzman towards using urban renewal dollars to fund it—something he has ruled out until now. Saltzman's chief of staff is yet to return a call for comment.

"I understand that a big controversial project is in the air but my concerns over this issue predate it," Adams told the Mercury via phone from Salem this afternoon. "This has been under discussion for a long time."

"This is driven by my support for human services and school funding. I think that the county has over-reached at times in its rhetoric to describe urban renewal," Adams continues, "but there's been some accuracy in their statements, too."

"We have made it really clear that for us, this is not about [Major League Soccer]," says Cogen. "But it's about working more closely together. The city made some major concessions here."

The new measure will be discussed in more detail at a Portland Development Commission board meeting next Thursday.

"This is a way to help our local government partners establish some checks and balances," says PDC boss Bruce Warner. "They will make everyone more comfortable. This is a major step forward."

The financial impact of the bill on PDC or the city and county is yet to emerge, but Warner acknowledged that it may well affect the amount of money PDC is able to use to finance its urban renewal projects in the future.

"As we move forward in the future we will look at all the urban renewal districts in a different way," he says. "If you're looking at a new urban renewal area, you might be a little more conservative on some of the financial plans and what we're seeking to accomplish in the districts."

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