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Thursday, November 6, 2003

Tualatin 140, Portland 0

Alexander B. Craghead of An Artist's Life has moved his writing to a new MT-powered blog location. As the nice lady on the telephone recording says, "Please make a note of it."

It's worthwhile checking in with him again. Craghead points out in a recent post that the Homer Williams Retirement Fund Pork Project (a.k.a. South Waterfront) has resulted in forcing the Lake Oswego vintage trolley out of downtown. Oh, great.

The project has also already forced Pacific Metal out of its longtime home in the North Macadam district. And of course, that company's getting the heck out of Dodge. Relocating within Portland isn't a viable option, so they're off to Tualatin.

And so another 140 jobs and another property taxpaying business leave Portland. To be replaced by? Tax-abated luxury condos! Thanks, City Council!

Anything for Homer. The city has looked the other way from his shaky track record and the felony record of his partner. I guess we shouldn't be surprised that the bodies have started falling. There'll doubtlessly be plenty more before the lovely condo towers block our views.

Comments (6)

Your statements regarding Portland development rile me up because I almost always agree with your tax and policy ideas. The way I see it, development of the Pearl is great because Portland now has a huge residential population right next to downtown. Many other cities suffer from downtown blight -- high commercial vacancy, crime, and decay. But not Portland. Instead, we're creating an urban center with a high population to services ratio. Doesn't it make sense that concentrating development downtown will pay off over time? I see your frustration -- it's a deal with the devil: developers make out big and new condo owners don't pay their share of property taxes, but during this economic downtime, we've had the biggest urban construction activity in the country, and the tax base will blossom in the future once the abatements expire. Right?

What about north Macadam is so valuable right now to preserve? I bet Pacific Metals is one of the reasons the Willamette is polluted. Why is it a good idea to have carbonized aluminum manufacturing in a high population area?

The bottom line, as I see it, is that there's a lot of risk in the development business. I've seen in many cities that where local governments don't reduce the risk by subsidizing development and the result is downtown blight and even worse suburban sprawl than we've got. By creating the critical mass to make downtown hip, the future of urban Portland is more secure. We'll forget about tax abated condos in 50 years -- but Portland will be one of the best cities in the world, along with Seattle and Vancouver, BC.

Look at what you're saying: A city that's broke should throw tens of millions at a chance that it might look "cool" 50 years from now. No thanks.

The long-term success of the Pearl is far from a done deal, much less this South Waterfront boondoggle. Loading up on high-end housing stock when you've got the worst unemployment in the country is a bad bet.

Plus, who in their right minds are moving to Portland, Oregone to pay $500,000 to live in a condo, listen to their neighbor's stereo all night, not be able to have a car, and have the nearest supermarket 25 blocks away? Those folks aren't going to stay.

In the end, those units in Pearl and North Macadam are just going to cause apartment vacancies in the grand old buildings of Northwest and the Joe Weston motel-looking apartments in Southeast.

Without a real economy to draw people here, there's not going to be any real growth, just a reshuffling of dollars. And guess who's going to get the dollars that get shuffled out of the other landlords' pockets? Homer Williams, Neil Goldschmidt, et al.

You're right, let's chase the manufacturers out of Portland. And let's give the Favored Few developers a complete property tax holiday. Let's let guys like Bogdanski pay for everything.

Hip, my a*s.

Hey jack, thanks for the plug and picking up on this.

A short update. we expect the line will be severed tueday, meaning our christmas trolley runs will only go as far as the Avalon. A few of us will be out at Sheridan Street with the speeders tomorrow, (sunday) to grab some lat photos and gear.

JB -
As usual, your reasoning makes sense.

Not all manufacturing is as bad as metals finishing, though. I wouldn't mind if Esco abandoned 24th and York either.

The other day, I asked a Hoyt Street broker "who's buying all these units?" No revealing answer - the buildings are selling quick. Sure, they could all go vacant, I guess, but wouldn't that just chill sprawl development while the population catches up? Is everybody going to abandon their condos the day they have to pay $8K/year in tax?

Regarding the "hip" thing, I respect your venerable wisdom here, but it seems that when it comes to picking a place to spend time, intangibles are big. People don't enjoy their lives in a run-down town, but they gravitate to good times from all over the world, and take their business with them. Look at NYC, Seattle and Vancouver, BC.

Paradoxically, I think the more expensive a place is, the more valuable it is because it's more exclusive, and so on. Look at Dunthorpe. As a long-time property owner in Portland, haven't you made out big on paper?

Am I full of crap? Set me straight. Thanks.

In response to Dog's "coolness" argument:
I live in Portland because I love the size, the nice people, the old buildings and the great Northwest. Condos in the Pearl District (or in my close-in SE neighborhood) are not going to enhance the quality of life in Portland - and are not going to attract people who love the same things about Portland. If you want to be as "cool" as Seattle, please just move there. I am terrified that Portland is headed toward the enforced niceness of Seattle. It wasn't too many years ago that Seattle developed the area just north of downtown... and in the process uprooted a community of arts and music and low/mixed income housing. Now downtown is clean and nice... and boring... but I hear that yuppies feel really safe there. I don't want my city to be exclusive or cool. I really want to be able to afford to live here, and to be surrounded by people who do all sorts of things and make varying amounts of money. The Pearl and other similar development is a threat to what makes Portland great.

Most of my peers seem to agree with you and JB on this, and I'm dynamic, so maybe I'll change my mind. I just need more convincing. Have you heard stories about downtown in the 70s and 80s? It was blighted, but fun because it was so shady. However, crime, vacancy, and sprawl are still expensive problems for the city.

Both arguments for and against development rely on the coolness factor -- it's just that you and JB think that blight shadyness makes for better living than bland yuppyville. Maybe yuppy attitude devours the urban electricity present in a city on the edge. But maybe you're humiliated by the new residents and their expensive lifestyle, and maybe JB's perspective is similarly colored by fond memories growing up in blighted NJ. So blight is good, because it keeps people hungry and development is bad like a pampered trustafarian. Considering the benefits of struggle, that's convincing.

But, an unemotional argument for developing downtown, even when the city is broke, is that development captures otherwise ephemeral capital. Regardless of who owns them, new buildings will be there for a long time. Enough time for the yuppies to move on and a satisfying shady scene to emerge. These diverse residents will continue to enjoy the real benefits of infill: they will consume less energy and time to get around, the city will spend less per resident to maintain services, and crime per resident will decline because of the increased occupancy. All the sketch we love, but for less money and time. That sounds good too, right?

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