But it seems Friday's paperwork hiccup concerning the city's half of the $62 million project might have been just that. When city staffers sits down the day after the vote with the legislative subcommittee that holds the keys to the rest of the money—bonds backed by the Oregon University System—it seems likely they'll be able to tell lawmakers that Portland officials are conceptually on board and ready to invest in pre-construction costs.
The only hitch now for Adams is that the council's support may not be unanimous—something council sources say Adams has fought hard to work out, in hopes of sending as strong a message of support to Salem as possible. The risks associated with the project, and lingering questions about its finances and the likelihood that Portland's burdened operating budget might have to be tapped for millions of dollars if things go south, are too substantial for the council's usual kumbaya 5-0 fun.
"I'm sure they might look at the vote count as some evidence of Portland's commitment to this project," said Commissioner Dan Saltzman, referring to Republicans in Salem. Saltzman, a skeptic, wouldn't tip his own vote but said the decision could be as close as 3-2, although "I'm reasonably sure it'll be 4-1."
Saltzman, for his part, wants to know whether the cost of moving the city's Bureau of Planning and Sustainability into the new building, planned for SW Fifth and Montgomery, will be part of the overall project cost. BPS will also have to pay rent for its new home, even though the city still owes money on the bureau's current digs, the 1900 Building.
Saltzman also wants planners to clarify and "put on the record" the project's "guaranteed maximum price"—another way of helping gauge whether the general fund might some day have to bail out a project whose success also depends heavily on generous projections concerning rent and occupancy by private businesses. As for the importance of presenting unanimity to Salem?
City Hall speculation on the "no" vote, at least as of this morning, sits firmly on Amanda Fritz, a known skeptic of the plan and a commissioner who hasn't been afraid previously to vote on seemingly popular, but expensive, projects (like retrofitting the former PGE Park for soccer). Fritz told the Mercury last week in brief comments that "I need to hear the mayor's briefing first."
Nick Fish, I'm told, also has yet to make a decision as his staff reviews all the dense packet of numbers and caveats that the mayor released, despite making the rounds with his sales pitch last week, only as of Friday.
There has been some good news regarding the project recently, though. The federal government this week announced it will contribute $1.5 million to help build the center.
Senator David Nelson, R-Pendleton, a project supporter and a member of the capital construction subcommittee that will meet with Portland officials, also pointed to a recent wave of private funding commitments to help close what had been a persistent funding gap for the project. He said the committee, in delaying a full legislative vote on Oregon University System bonding until February 2012 at the earliest, had wanted more answers on finances and risk—answers that he says have now been promised.
"If they fulfill the requirements of what the committee required, that'll be good," he says. "There was support but there were people who had some questions. They didn't think it was vetted out as completely as it could have been."
Nelson didn't know how things would turn out—but if the building goes forward, a key piece of Mayor Sam Adams' legacy will loom over Southwest Portland. Whether it's the technological showpiece the mayor hopes it will be, or the boondoggle critics fear it will be, remains to be seen.
Get the best of the Mercury each week in your inbox!