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Monday, May 18, 2009

New Urban Renewal Area? Cue Controversy...

Posted by Matt Davis on Mon, May 18, 2009 at 12:15 PM

Mayor Sam Adams led his first central city urban renewal commission meeting at the Portland Development Commission this morning. Actually, Adams is probably still leading it, because the thing was scheduled to last three hours and so far, everything I've been to at PDC has had the tendency to overrun—just the perfect length for busy, civic minded citizens and journalists to actively engage with the process show up for an hour and then rush off to fulfill their busy schedules while the power-brokers do their real talking.

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ADAMS: FIRST SOFT-BALL QUESTION FROM UNDER-BUS-THROWING COUNTY CHAIR TED WHEELER THIS MORNING WAS WHETHER WE NEED A NEW URBAN RENEWAL AREA AT ALL...

I've been to three meetings at PDC about the new urban renewal zone in the last week. Each one has been at least two hours long. But as Mayor Adams usually says in city council, "what you can say in three minutes, you can say in two," and I can't help thinking the excess of communication may have been partly engineered to foil whatever interest the public might have in the creation of a new district. For example, this picture from 1909 describing Portland as the future "New York of the Pacific" was fascinating—it once again raised the idea in my mind of Portland wishing it could be confident in its own skin, but really, secretly, wanting to be liked by all the real cities on the East Coast. Still: Did the presentation about the history of urban renewal really need to last 35 minutes? I was trying to add up the value of everyone around the table's time: Mayor Sam Adams, County Chair Ted Wheeler, Sandra McDonough from the Portland Business Alliance, PSU, Con-way, Leatherman Tools, Portland Public Schools, the NW Neighborhood Council, and gave up when I realized it was all just pretty expensive. Meanwhile I had to be back at the office for an important call, and I couldn't help thinking, didn't the mayor have better things to be doing, too?

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PORTLAND'S FUTURE IMAGINED IN 1909: "The New York Of the Pacific..."

So: Why is the future of this urban renewal area important? More after the jump...

Right now, Portland is looking at creating two new urban renewal areas with the supposed aim of alleviating "blight": One in the central city, which is what today's meeting was about, and another in North/Northeast Portland, set to begin discussion in early June. The central city urban renewal area is under a little more time pressure because the commission still needs to decide whether to give $15million of the $300million plus available urban renewal dollars to Merritt Paulson's plan to renovate PGE Park for major league soccer.

That would be the "blighted" soccer stadium that was last renovated at the turn of the 21st century.

Initially, County Chair Ted Wheeler was dead against funding the soccer deal with urban renewal money, but state legislators have been working out a deal in Salem where the county would now get more revenue back, earlier, from the creation of a new urban renewal district. Still, Wheeler was in skeptical mood at this morning's meeting, from the get-go, and it will be interesting to watch as the discussion unfolds around whether to include PGE park in the new district.

Another probable contentious area about the new urban renewal area is that it's looking, now, at 7 nodes that don't appear to be connected to each other:
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CENTRAL CITY STUDY AREA: LOOKING AT SELECT AREAS IN NORTHWEST, CENTRAL DOWNTOWN, AND DOWN BY THE ROSS ISLAND BRIDGE...

These areas may end up being connected by what PDC Economic Development Director Bob Alexander described as a "cherry stem" last week. But is that really in the spirit of reviving blighted areas? Or is the new central city urban renewal area more interested in Gerrymandering areas that are ripe to pop, economically, so that PDC can harvest a richer tax base, sooner?

We'll have more on this story as it unfolds.

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