And she's buying a stairway to heaven
As Rob over at AboutItAll predicted, a couple of pieces in Wednesday's Oregonian really shizzled my bizzle. They were both about the current state of the most foolish public project I have witnessed in my 25 years in Portland (and that's saying a lot), the OHSU aerial tram.
Wham, tram, thank you, ma'am, Vera. This incredible little toy will allow the doctors at OHSU and their lab workers to ride from Pill Hill to their new biotech-wannabe building in the North Macadam district in three minutes, rather than taking a 10-minute ride in a van.
The cost of that convenience? At least $28.44 million to build -- the vast, vast majority of it being public money -- and who knows how much a year to operate. Nobody's saying how much. I'd guess around $1 million a year. Forever.
There are so many problems here, it's hard to tell where to start. From a political junkie's standpoint, the most significant aspect is that the tram will connect one Neil Goldschmidt client, OHSU, with another N.G. client, Homer Williams, whose development has broken ground down on the old brownfields below. Who's your daddy, Oregon? We all know.
Yesterday's paper pointed up two more problems. The first is that the tram folks are $13 million short of the $28.44 million they need to build.
It's so sad. They sold this to the City Council on a $15.5 million budget, with the mayor saying it was going to be a beautiful picture postcard. Now, at $28.44 million, they've got a nasty looking bunch of concrete boxes and plastic towers about which even the Architecuture Dandy (see below) can't find much good to say.
And where is the other $13 million going to come from? Here's the latest rap from the tram people:
The board also asked an informal finance committee to figure out new revenue sources without asking the city for general fund money, and without reducing city funds designated for transportation maintenance and operation.
The guidelines suggest looking for additional contributors from the Marquam Hill community, such as the Veteran Affairs Medical Center and the Portland Shriners Hospital for Children. OHSU committed to $9 million of the original $15.5 million budget.
Other potential sources include possible tradeoffs for federal funding in the urban renewal area; energy tax credits based on the efficiency of tram operations; and additional property tax money generated by the estimated $1.8 billion of development that the tram is expected to help stimulate.
Mike Lindberg, a former Portland City Council member who serves on the nonprofit board, recalled earlier instances when the city faced shortages for Pioneer Courthouse Square and the Performing Arts Center. Instead of cutting important details, the city found additional money, he said.
I repeat, where is the additional money going to be found this time? I'm sure, in the pockets of people who pay (a) local property tax, (b) state income tax, and (c) federal income tax.
Hey, all you folks who voted against Measure 30, do you want public money to pay another $13 million for the aerial tram?
If not, tell your elected officials. Take two minutes to send a message to Mr. Hopes-He'll-Be-Mayor Jim Francesconi here. Randy Leonard can be contacted by leaving a comment to this post -- he's a pretty regular reader here. I wouldn't bother with Vera or Erik, but you might also try Dan Saltzman. And be sure to drop a line to your state representatives about this, too. Their e-mail addresses can be found here and here.
And don't be fooled by this "urban renewal" mumbo-jumbo. Those are tax dollars. Look on your property tax bill -- you'll see them (or ask to see your landlord's bill -- he or she passes that on to you as a renter).
The idea that the Shriners Hospital should pony up is certainly a new one. When the Shriners call me asking for money, I picture my money helping sick kids, not building eyesores for the benefit of West Hills big shots.
The other huge, new problem with the tram appeared on the front page of the Living section, where the O's Architecture Dandy, Randy Gragg, did one of his design "analyses" of the drawings released so far. This guy cracks me up. He gets on his high horse as "architecture critic" -- of the Portland Oregonian, for crying out loud -- and discusses this collection of junk as if he were giving a guided tour of the Taj Mahal.
Hey, Randy. Open up your thesaurus dialog box and tell it to add these two words: tacky and ugly. Ug. Ly. As in, U to the G to the ly-ly-ly.
Picture postcard? Maybe from Newark.