Black comedy at its finest
The Portland City Council is so funny. A week ago today, the commissioners were making a big deal about their calling a six-month moratorium on property tax abatements. Commissioner Sten was pouting, doing his best Opie imitation, about how he couldn't promise anything to the developers any more, now that Dan Saltzman is up for re-election and actually has to vote against the most egregious tax giveaways once in a while. A six-month cooling off period was just what the doctor ordered, to make sure that no more votes came up between now and the primary election, which coincidentally is just over six months from now.
That was comical enough, but it gets better. Yesterday comes news that Trammell Crow, whose abatement application for its proposed Alexan luxury high-rise apartments in the SoWhat district went down in flames a while back, somehow, miraculously, through a stroke of amazing good fortune, just so happened to get an application for a new abatement filed one day ahead of the start of the moratorium. By golly, they squeaked in under the wire, they did -- lucky them. Which means that there will indeed be a vote on whether to give Trammell Crow a new abatement. Only after we've made that decision will there be no more for six months.
Isn't it rich?
When it comes to developer welfare, our elected representatives really aren't very good con men. I remember the day they voted to allow construction of the aerial tram [rim shot]. Old Vera strutted around clucking, "You'd better come in on budget! Fifteen million dollars, and it had better be a picture postcard, just as you've promised!" How ludicrous. Everyone knew the $15.5 million was a bald-faced lie. (Actually, the first lie was $10 million, but at least Governor Neil and the other pushers of the project had owned up to a 55 percent overrun before the crucial council vote.) Now we're up to a $45 million black hole, and they haven't even put up the first girder.
The same with last week's big show: Look, everybody! Moratorium on property tax abatements!
Sure, until just after the next election. Oh, and by the way, here's a pet group we'll let in at the last minute. Everybody else, though, listen up, we're getting tough!
You have wonder why the Portland Development Commission loves Trammell Crow so much. In my last round of commentary on the Alexan, I discovered that that firm manages the so-called Merrick luxury apartments over by Burgerville on NE MLK Boulevard (also tax-abated, thank you), and many ex-tenants of that facility apparently are unhappy with the service they received there.
So what does Trammell Crow have its hand out asking for this time? A rehash of its Alexan proposal, but that's really just frosting on their cake. It will go along with the spectacularly sweet giveaway they're getting on some fine downtown real estate at SW Third and Oak. The PDC bought the property for $1.2 million, but all of a sudden, an appraisal has come in that says the parcel is in fact worthless because of some vaguely stated problem or other. And so Trammell Crow gets the property for free -- free! So that they can renew our urbs by putting up, just what Portland needs, another condo tower! Great. And we property taxpayers, who see a huge chunk of our property taxes go to "urban renewal" (it's roughly 20 percent of what I'm paying the city this year), in effect are just giving them the land.
Sheesh. I wouldn't mind so much these guys' ruining Portland, if they weren't making us all pay for it.
What public good will come of the Third and Oak handout? Why, if the new condo monstrosity on that corner is a hit, it will pave the way for that other condo tower that's planned for down by the Burnside Bridge -- you know, the one that's running Saturday Market out of the only home it's ever known.
No development proposal in Portland is complete without some obviously bogus design story, and the Third and Oak tower comes with the recurring snow job about the super-duper "narrow design" that will make it light and graceful. "These buildings will be so skinny -- like needles! Or the teeth of a comb! It's like Vancouver, B.C.!" Wonderful. I seem to recall the same line being thrown around about the SoWhat towers. Take a ride down I-5 and see for yourself, folks. They look like big, fat ugly boxes to me.
Yep, it's a funny show here. All that's missing these days is Randy Gragg's Pimm's-Cup pretention. Oh, well. You laugh to keep from crying.