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Bruce Warner, executive director of the Portland Development Commission, first broke the news to his staff this morning, and then to a handful of reporters at a news conference attended by Mayor Sam Adams: After five and a half years helming the city's primary economic development agency, Warner will step down next year and "move onto the next chapter" of his life.
Warner had hoped to leave at the end of this year but was persuaded by Adams to stay until April—to help plan the agency's 2011-12 budget and help in the search for, and transition to, a replacement.
"We are focusing our efforts on economic development and job creation," says Warner, who also has worked for Washington County and Metro, "and I'm hoping to make sure they have a budget that prepares for that."
The PDC is charged with spurring private development in legally "blighted" areas by investing tax dollars harvested from urban renewal districts, a mission that's been made incredibly difficult in recent years in a tight economy that's seen lenders clench down on what once was an easy stream of credit.
Warner's tenure has seen some notable projects, including the streetcar extensions, MAX's Green Line, the redevelopment of the White Stag Block, and the addition of Mercy Corps to Old Town. But since the downturn, the commission has had to sweeten its offers to developers (like the deal to bring green-power company Vestas to PDX) and work more with public agencies and nonprofits. Others, like the aerial tram, have been more notorious than notable.
"We've had to step up and provide guarantees we normally would not be able to do," Warner told me after the announcement, also saying he expects things to improve, but not overnight. "It's going to take a long time for the jobs to come back."
To be sure, the PDC has had its share of critics. And so has Warner over the years. The commission's staff and its board of directors also have had their own differences. (The O's post also touches on recent controversies.) As much as officials tout progress in community relations, tensions over decades of redevelopment decisions linger with communities in North and Northeast Portland.
Warner acknowledged those "thorny" relationships but said he made them a priority. "It's one of the biggest things I feel really good about," he says. "They are better than I believe they've been in a long time."