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Friday, September 16, 2011

Will Adams Get His Way on Sustainability Center Vote?

Posted by Denis C. Theriault on Fri, Sep 16, 2011 at 12:49 PM

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The Portland City Council next Wednesday will vote to do what Republicans in Salem this year wouldn't allow the Legislature to do: Commit to funding its half of the controversial $62 million Oregon Sustainability Center planned for Portland State's campus.

This post has been updated; see below!

The vote, announced in a press release this morning, is somewhat symbolic. It's meant to send a message to holdout lawmakers—coming a day before Mayor Sam Adams' team plans to take its case directly to holdout lawmakers, essentially begging them to give the Oregon University System the go-ahead to pay for the rest. If Salem doesn't do its part, the building likely won't go up.

The project—which would add some pizazz to Portland's skyline—looms as a very visible piece of the mayor's one-term legacy. And, as such, Adams wants to send as strong a message to Salem as he can. That appears to be one reason why the mayor, in a move his staff confirms, is listing the vote as an "emergency" item, meaning it needs full council approval to go forward.

UPDATE 2 PM: Adams' policy coordinator Caryn Brooks tells me the mayor's office mistakenly listed the issue as an "emergency" item—a mix-up that arose, another source told me, after the Portland Development Commission mistakenly affixed the label when filing paperwork with the city clerk's office.

The only real vote on the center this Wednesday involves a very symbolic resolution pledging support for the project. The council will take preliminary votes on ordinances (here and here) that would actually commit city resources, but binding approval (unless, hey, the mayor really can muster five votes next week!) would come as soon as the following Wednesday.

That explains why there was confusion when I called some of Adams' colleagues, as you can read when the post picks up below. Confusion aside, it's still not the best sign for the roll-out on such an important, spendy issue.

Post resumes here: But how confident is the mayor in getting five votes? I'm still waiting to hear further clarification from his staff, and I'll update when I do. But one commissioner and potential skeptic, Amanda Fritz, offered an interesting reply when I reached her and told her the mayor was planning to demand all four of his colleagues toe the company line.

"Really."

Fritz wouldn't tell me she was going to vote against it, or how she was leaning. She said she wanted to talk to the mayor first, before making a decision, and said that briefing had yet to take place. She might yet support it. But her statement reveals Adams may have a bit more cooking and cajoling to do before Wednesday's council meeting—and if presenting a face of seamless unity is the goal, this might not be the best start.

Update 4:40 PM: The online council agenda now has a link to the project's financial plan, among other documents. I'm told by other city sources that council support for the project, even at this still somewhat-early juncture, depends heavily on how those numbers look—and how much time commissioners feel they'll have to examine them for themselves.

Most of the borrowing for the project falls on the state's shoulders, although the city will also issue bonds—to be paid back by the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability, which will be moved into the new space and made to pay the city rent. If BPS can't hack it, the city's general fund, used to pay for everything from parks to cops to homelessness prevention services, will be tapped instead.

The city also will fork over urban renewal money and is responsible for securing millions in grant money that will limit its contribution. Moreover, if the project overall doesn't collect enough rent to pay its bills—just less than half the building will be opened to nonprofits and private businesses—then the city would be asked to make up half of any deficit, even if BPS can pay the rent on its own share.

Check out a chart from the financial plan, and read the release from Adams' office, after the cut.

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PORTLAND, Ore. — Portland City Council will consider authorizing a commitment to own a share of the Oregon Sustainability Center and have the Portland Development Commission fund 50 percent of architecture and engineering work on September 21. As part of the commitment, the Oregon University System would fund the other 50 percent.

“If we want to be at the cutting edge of clean technology and advanced manufacturing, as the city’s economic development strategy demands, our public and private sectors must come together and build projects like the Oregon Sustainability Center,” Mayor Sam Adams said. “We cannot maintain our leadership in this vital, growing sector by wringing hands and watching other cities take big risks and reap bigger rewards. Portland has an advantage over other cities because we already have an economy built around clean tech products and services, but the competition is getting tough.”

Council approval would mark a major milestone in the development of what could be one of the highest-performing office buildings in the world. Following the Council action, project partners will meet with a subcommittee of the Oregon Legislature on September 22 to present a response to questions raised in the 2011 budget session in preparation for a request for formal legislative action in February 2012.

These actions come as a result of significant recent project progress:
completion of schematic design in early May;
closure of the $3 million project budget gap through fundraising and value engineering;
selection of Sanyo/Inspec as the solar provider for the Center;
commitment by Umpqua Bank to open a new store in the Center, which will be located at SW Fourth Avenue and SW Montgomery Street next to the Portland State University campus.

Ninety percent of available office space will have lease commitments prior to construction with the intent that 100 percent of the office and retail space will be leased upon project completion. The Center is envisioned as one of the highest performing commercial buildings in the world and will achieve triple net-zero performance in energy, water and wastewater management. It is designed to pursue the International Living Future Institute’s Living Building Challenge, which is considered the world’s most stringent green building criteria, and seeks to expand the role of social equity in sustainability.

OSC’s projected cost of $61.7 million is 15 to 20 percent higher than comparable institutional buildings like the Port of Portland’s new headquarters at the Portland Airport. A similar price premium was evident 15 years ago for LEED construction, now considered an industry standard.

The Oregon Sustainability Center project is led by the Oregon University System, Portland Development Commission, the City of Portland Bureau of Planning and Sustainability and an assortment of for-profit and non-for-profit partners in the sustainability and social equity sectors.

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