Portland is a PR machine for light rail & streetcar
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“It must always be remembered how cost-effectiveness works in the public sector: the cost IS the benefit.” - author unknown
An Amazing Story of Portland’s back Room Deals
A routine story about a proposed development contained this amazing admission of how the back room deals work.
The below excerpt starts about ½ way through the linked story. (bold added)
Homer Williams, the developer who helped create the Pearl District and South Waterfront, says that with enough will and political capital, developers can put bold designs into place in Portland. But it’s hard, he says. And Con-way has taken a wrong first step, he believes.
By showing its preliminary master plan to groups with a stake in the development, including the neighborhood association, Con-way opened itself up for criticism before it was ready to deal with it, Williams says.
He says he learned from his experiences with the Pearl District and South Waterfront that he had to have agreements in place on specific pieces of developments before his plans went public.
With South Waterfront, he says, he secured commitments from Mayor Vera Katz and from Oregon Health & Science University on its investment in a campus that would be connected to its main campus by the tram. And those two weren’t the only ones with whom bargains were made.
“We got everybody around the table every Monday for months, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.,” Williams says. “PDOT, OHSU, PDC (the Portland Development Commission), (the) planning (bureau). We said, ‘OK, let’s make an agreement.’ ”
He says the parks bureau, for instance, wanted a greenway left along the Willamette River. In response, he and other developers agreed to give up the four acres of property along the river that is worth tens of millions of dollars.
In return, Williams says, the developers received commitments from the city for more height in South Waterfront buildings and more tax increment financing that made the Portland streetcar’s arrival in the new neighborhood possible. OHSU got its tram.
“It’s the only way to do it,” Williams says. “Let planning defend the plan. No developer can defend the plan. The developer has to be willing to take the bullets.”
But architect Jerry L. Ward, who lives within a mile of South Waterfront, says the fact that the neighborhood association as well as other property owners and public interest groups were not included in those early negotiations made the process unfair.
“The neighborhood association never knew about the heights (of South Waterfront towers) going to 325 feet until after all the amendments were signed and delivered,” Ward says.
Williams says he fears the Con-way plan, even with its green streets and sustainable design, is unlikely to successfully bridge the divide from vision to reality because criticism has begun and Con-way has no allies in place.
“I like the plan,” Williams says. “It was a bold plan. The minute they put that plan out to the public, I thought, this is going to be dead on arrival. It’s just sad.”
Boretz says he made a decision to include the public early, and he still thinks it was the right choice.
Specifically, Boretz says he didn’t want to follow the South Waterfront model.
“It wasn’t something I was comfortable doing – back room,” he says. “I just felt we needed to listen to what people were saying and respond to that in conceptual terms and not try to create special deals.”
Boretz says most of what he’s heard in response to his presentations has been positive, and that he’s not surprised at some neighborhood resistance.
“It may be because this is the first project I’ve worked on, but I don’t think it will be picked apart,” he says. “I think it is big enough and incorporates enough really good public benefit elements that it won’t get picked apart.” (Bold added, peter korn, The Portland Tribune, Apr 29, 2008 ) (Local)
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