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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on September 18, 2006 1:51 PM. The previous post in this blog was Blue Monday. The next post in this blog is Welcome, Port of Portland readers. Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.

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Monday, September 18, 2006

SoWhat -- it's costing us more than a billion

An astute reader left an important comment in another thread about the ever-escalating public cost of the SoWhat district -- Portland's latest condo jungle and doctor's office complex. While my post griped about the latest $170 million budget revelation, the commentator notes that the true cost to the taxpayers for this never-never land is going to run about a billion and a half dollars!

He writes:

Some real numbers to the North Macadam costs need to be cited. Some of these are repeats of many blogs from the past, but there seems to be some new parties unfamiliar to the numbers.

The original 1999 budget was $288M for NM. This does not include the debt cost which at todays interest rate will easily add another $400M to the cost for a 20 year UR period, which in all cases of UR in Portland has always been extended which increases the debt cost even higher. These all add up to an amount paid by taxpayers.

The present proposed 5 year budget has been increased to $297M. That is taxpayer direct costs.

Last week the City Council increased the base cost of NM an additional $38M by Amendment 8. This amount is from the City’s general fund budget-taxpayers pockets; an additional amount to the NM costs, and it even has a higher debt service cost than the URA amount and not included in the $38M amount.

What is not included above are all the funds from other sources that are directed to NM for identified projects of the District: federal, state, county, etc dollars. These are funds that should be included in ones analysis of what taxpayers are paying for NM. For example, for the proposed I-5 off ramp into NM the project was initially $30M. At last weeks NM URAC meeting, PDOT estimates the cost at $40M to $50M with feds (taxpayer dollars) hopefully providing 50% with matching URA funds. But the project is now way under-funded on both ends and delayed way beyond the NM Plans timetable. The $170M in unfunded transportation projects figure that some cite is not far off-probably low.

There are also federal and state tax dollars that have been used for toxic site cleanup that has been over $80M, plus the additional tax breaks given for cleanup.

Another example of “outside” money is for the pedestrian bridge over I-5/Macadam. Its initial 1999 budget was $1.2M, now PDOT at last weeks meeting is estimating $8M and higher; funded by federal dollars not totally funded.

There are many other projects identified in the 1999 and now present proposed NM 5 year budget that are under/unfunded: Transportation-South Portal, $20M- North Portal $20M; Greenway-$40M and rising; Neighborhood Improvements (as listed by Commissioner Adams at the PSU Town Hall)-$72M; Neighborhood Parks; etc. Plus there are other projects in process that have cost increases beyond the budget of $288M to $297M. NM hasn’t even started the big- ticket project of Affordable Housing. Besides there being many identified projects under-not funded, they are many way behind the 1999 budget timetable for starting/completion which also is adding to their costs. “Bankruptcy” is not an ill-chosen word as last Friday’s Tribune used in its front-page article on NM.

There are also numerous over-budget projects in progress besides the tram ($8.5M vs. $60M). The trolley extension to the south-Lowell St. took $3M from the general fund (PDOT) to help pay for the to-be-completed extension because it was over budget. The initial budget to purchase the land for the Neighborhood Park on Moody St. was $1.5M; paid $7.2M. The PDC land purchase for the first housing block (49) will be $5M after the same block sold for $1.2M over a year ago to Homer Williams. Same goes for Block 33, where $3M will be given to Williams for the air-rights to build housing above a OHSU parking garage after “after-the-fact-negotiations” appraisal was less than half.

What the general public needs (if we are interested) is a realistic accounting of what an Urban Renewal area really costs the public. The PDC does not attempt this task because it would be surprising.

Several years ago, I and Don Berg wrote a commentary for the Oregonian on what we thought the public’s cost for NM might be-$1.5BILLION. Bill McDonald could be right. That equates to $2,725.00 per person in the City of Portland, and not the $300 per person. Quite a BILL, but lets not quibble.

Comments (8)

This detailed analysis was done by Jerry. I just picked my number based on how these things usually go. For example, that was last Saturday, and I've since adjusted my number upwards to 1.6 billion. Oh, one other thing: Critical elements of the project will not work as planned.

It would be way easier just to give the SOWA developers and our elected officials however much money they want. Then it could be like a mythological test, where if they take too much, they're doomed to haunt the Merriweather.

$1.6 Billion? $1.6 Billion! It makes me want to puke. Sorry I can't articulate my disgust in more flowering terms...I'm just not in the mood right now.

Driving back to SW Portland from Chapman Middle School, I was struck at how the Swifts returning to their flyway chimney in NW Portland is not unlike Homer & Company making another trip to the City Council to ask them to refill the trough with public subsidies.

And then it dawned on me: the Powerball Prize just ticked up to $179 MILLION Dollars. Enough to pay for all the SoWhat transportation improvements, and still have an extra $8 million to give away to OHSU through some under the table quid pro quo.

All we need is $14 million worth of seed money to buy enough tickets to get even odds. We'll call it the "Biotech Transportation Corridor Funding Initiative".

Can't lose? Perhaps not. But at least it's a plan. That's more than we can say for the status quo.

I urge everyone who's interested to look at the 1999 SoWa plan costs here

http://www.pdc.us/pdf/dev_serv/pubs/dev_macadam_report.pdf

and know how obsolete the numbers on the Chart 6 spread sheet are.
and know what is being withheld from the public.

Look at the park, the I-5 ped/bike bridge, greenway, transportation, and the last line "Debt Service", which at the time added up to $160 million for the first 20 years and has now likely doubled with many more millions and years needed to retire the impending SoWa public debt.

This 1999 Chart 6 spread sheet must be updated for public consideration and discussion.

Demand the city stop deceiving the public
with misinformation and by withholding information.

We need an initiative referendum for a ballot measure to shut down the PDC. Sell off the assets, replenish the general fund and put an end to the taxpayer rip-offs once and for all.

How much of this $1.6 billion comes from property taxes generated soley inside the SO WA district? How much of the $1.6 billion would have been generated anyway had this $1.6 billion not been spent? I don't know either.

Greg C

Dave, PDC has no assets after you pay off all the debt, but it would be interesting to have a ballot measure concerning PDC to finally have some public imput to see if 50% of the taxpayers think the PDC is providing a good return on their tax dollar investment. Please, lets not have the PDC media department finally spinning out how the eleven urban renewal areas are filling out their missions/programs/projects. That might be against state election laws if we ever enforced them.

But, of course state law requires PDC to provide accurate accounting/performance data on each URA each accounting year which they have not done; even after it has been requested. Where is our state attorney?


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