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Thursday, July 26, 2007

SoWhat fantasies already starting to crumble

There's a hysterical piece on the Oregonian website (or whatever the heck it is) about Portland's SoWhat District. "Early growing pains" is what the spin doctors at the O are calling the emerging situation.

That's an interesting way to put it. Suddenly the gullible folks who decided to locate their businesses in SoWhat are discovering that there's nowhere for anybody to park, and that the street "system" is laughable compared to the traffic burden it's now being expected to bear. "Parking seems to have been an afterthought," the one retailer says. "That really surprised us."

Wrong, buddy. It was a non-thought. Everybody's supposed to "go by streetcar!" You must have missed that meeting.

Too funny.

Then one of the architecture dandies on the city Design Commission starts mouthing off about how the poodle poop park down there isn't being built fast enough:

Michael McCulloch, a member of the Portland Design Commission, which enforces city height regulations in the urban renewal area... thinks the Bureau of Parks & Recreation has waited too long to plan improvements for a two-acre grassy patch to be known as South Waterfront Neighborhood Park.
Hey, Mikey, nice job on the "design" down there -- especially, great "enforcement" of those height restrictions. The "view corridors" are really something. The buildings turned out like the teeth of a fine-tooth comb, just like you promised. Reminds me of Vancouver, B.C. and Barcelona. They're absolute linchpins. Plus an aerial tram [rim shot].

But I digress. As for the timetable on the park, let's see... the city forked over $7 million in cold cash to condemn those two acres -- seven freakin' million. Then somebody had to pay to (a) get rid of the tenants who had storage lockers there; (b) knock down the storage facility; (c) clean up toxic waste in the ground, and (d) plant the grass that's currently there for the SoWhat hotties' lhasa apsos to relieve themselves on. Nobody's ever reported what all those additional, post-acquisition costs came to exactly, but let's be conservative and say $2 million.

That's $9 million of public money spent on that little neighborhood park, and counting. Of that, $1 million was raided on an emergency basis from the parks bureau's budget, and at last report there was another $800,000 slated to be steered away from the city's other worthy park projects for the SoWhat patch of green. If you and your pals have to wait a little while longer for us to burn another multi-million-dollar bundle so that you can turn that lot into another Randy Gragg fantasy moonscape, that's life. Pipe down about it.

Meanwhile, remember those hot condo sales? "We sold the whole tower out in a day!" yada yada. Well, that's all history now. Old Homer Williams was crying the blues about it in Tuesday's O, under some fake cheery headline or other:

Williams says they sold 30 to 50 condos a month when they started. "That wasn't sustainable," he says. "A lot of it was investors, speculators."

Now, Williams says they sell three to four a month. Given the slowdown, Williams says the next riverfront condo tower likely won't start construction until late 2008. Williams says he isn't worried about the slowdown. He expects the market inventory to level out in the next six months or so. But right now, Williams says of condos: "You wouldn't want any more."

I've been saying that for years, chief. Finally, we see eye to eye.

SoWhat doesn't have "growing pains." SoWhat is a pain, you know where. And no surprise in these quarters, the pain is growing every day.

Comments (36)

The most annoying sentence in Ryan White's article is, "Portland's robust rental market and sluggish condo sales are starting to reshape the city's housing mix." That implies we let market forces decide our city's future, when we all know it's done by politicians betting with other people's money, while they roll over in bed for the rich and powerful. It's like saying relations in a whorehouse will now be decided by who falls in love.

One more thing on Homer, he didnt really "sell" the condos, he took at $10K deposit to buy.

Most of those were speculators who, ahem, lost sight of the dream that was SoWa and lost their deposits. Homer's fate should be interesting since very dime he uses is borrowed, this could be his 3rd or 4th (I know Broken Top in Bend was first and then there was a NW project)bankruptcy.

Portland is lucky their housing market lags the rest of the country or else this would have occurred last year.

I still think that area will be a success, but I bet we wait 20 years before all the "promised" development is actually built.

And another area populated with specuvestors is The Pearl. That area is gonna suffer bad.

A good parking quote to get would be the DHL or FedEx drivers who navigate SoWa every day amidst the 10,000 biotech workers who report to work there.

"Parking seems to have been an afterthought," the one retailer says. "That really surprised us."

Were they hiding under a rock? How could they not know that SoWhat was "Transit Oriented Development?" Especially if they were looking to put a business there?

Oh why even bother highlighting any of the problems and official blunders.
Not a one of them ever respond or are held accountable.

The "view" corridors? That was a pitch to get the new 325 ft height limit. After that the city punted on the width and spacing f the the towers. Say good-by to Mt. St. Helens as you drive into the city from the South and o Mt. Hood if you live oorwork on the slope above SoWa.

The park? That grassy patch wasn't even the original site. Homer owed the original site (better location) and he got the city to switch locations so he could have high rise on his. The city then threatened condemnation of the public storage site.
Park and greenway? ALl of the SoWa public improvement/infrastructure costs have soared far beyond the relatively small Tram overruns. The current central district (50 of 130 total acres) of SoWa under construction has been devouring the revenue needed for the future phases as well.
New TIF formulas have allowed bigger borrowing and PDOT and Parks budgets have been raided to bail out SoWa.

They call this planning.
But with litteraly every schedule, estimate and revenue projection becoming obsolete right out of the gate SoWa is a lesson in chaos. Mismanagment, misappropriation, misrepresentation and
everyone involved totally insulated from any responsibility.

Driving north out of the Terwilliger Curves the other day, I caught a glimpse of SoWa. It looked like a giant gray wall Brutal. What a mess.

Just remember the City Engineer and City Planner at the time now have jobs with the developer.

to be fair, the original plan for SoWa/North Macadam was much better than the one adopted. buildings were to be much shorter, the greenway much wider, etc. it's less about the planners writing the plans, and more about the monied power/ city government deal-making.

what I fear most? that we will learn nothing from this, and in good "planning" fashion, forget the past and look at the future. lather, rinse, repeat.

"it's less about the planners writing the plans, and more about the monied power/ city government deal-making."
Oh bullshat
It's all about planners and their high density transit oriented visions.
The fact that they scheme with developers to make it happen is secondary.

The plans suck, the rail/tram/smarth growth fanatsy sucks and the countless millions doled out in chaos fashion to subsidize it sucks even more.
And all along the way layers of lies usher it along.

The other side of the coin is the chaos it causes. In today's Oregoninan there is the article. "Package Could Help Save families"

Where the family flight as documented in the Portland Multnomah Progress Boards report on Family Flight to the berbs. http://www.sustainableportland.org/shared/cfm/image.cfm?id=98238

Not only do we have to pay back all the Bonds but clock up the Net Present Value of the $60 million cash flow we are not getting to help support the local economy and schools as claimed by the Oregonian Article, for the 11,000 students lost, and now have another government subsidy needed for affordable housing to stop the bleeding of families.

I would guess it is much closer to triple that or 30,000 students and $180 million in funding lost to the berbs with flight and not having Portland Public Schools share of the growth in the 60,000+ increase as documented in the Portland Progress Board Study.


Investing a few hundred thousand in Neighborhood Parks kid could play in instead of "Moonscapes" and places for dogs to poop, would help keep families as well. But when you have more dogs registered in Multnoman County than kids registed in school and no yard on the sidewalk to sidewalk high density development they gotta have a place to play as well.

Well it looks like the downdraft in the national housing market is finally hitting Portland. First it's the condos - which like Miami and Las Vegas were built with no thought about over supply. And a few days earlier the "O" reported that the supply of homes on the market is growing and the median sales price has slipped a few thousand dollars. My hunch is that we will be lucky to have a flat to slightly lower housing market here in the next 12 months. That is if we buck the national trends - which are NOT looking good.

i agree with dave regarding the general RE market. i think a single family homes will be flat or slightly down, and condos will go down.

also, at this point, funding is super tight on condo projects. besides projects in the works, i doubt many more will be planned and a couple are certainly going to fall through.

so portland will have some time to see how these guys land in our city.

Oh bullshat
It's all about planners and their high density transit oriented visions.

the countless millions doled out in chaos fashion to subsidize it sucks even more.

the subsidies you're talking about were not determined (or even suggested) by planners--they were determined by bureaucrats and city government, in conjunction with folks like Homer Williams.

ranting about "the planners" won't do you any good. direct your criticism towards the folks doing the dealing and choosing--PDC officials, City Council, the Mayor and Homer Williams.

Swimmer's link: http://www.oregonlive.com/news/oregonian/index.ssf?/base/news/1185418516226870
is amazing. We're now going to start paying people with rent subsidies and mortgage subsidies to attend Portland Public Schools. Not only do Portlanders refuse to endorse the use of school vouchers, they're now going the opposite direction with "negative vouchers." What happens when they give a mortgage subsidy to someone who subsequently decides to send their kid to parochial school?

Boy, it looks to me like things are starting to unravel in South Water Front.

Of course, instead of solid journalism (even handed factual reporting and analysis) with informative headlines, The Oregonian continues to cheerlead hoping to promote confidence.

But the economic market forces can't be denied or swept under the rug (there's something bigger than The Oregonian, which it can't contol).

As a result, The Oregonian readership is going to be left wondering what happened when the bottom drops out.

Then readers are going to be angry with The Oregonian for its poor journalism and accelerate the already declining subscription numbers.

When will The Oregonian realize their type of journalism (if you can call it that) does a disservice to Portland?

And when will the Portland political establishment realize "the cover" provided by The Oregonian has left them dangerously exposed to the long awaited backlash?

Here is another one for you Jack, hot off the presses. I think this was the second failed bailout of this project.


Jack, I'd like to add to your list of remembrances of "promises", "this is what we envision" from city politicians, planners, architects, and developers.

Matt Brown (PDOT rep-PDC): "there will be 40% mass transit ridership in SoWhat."

Larry Brown, Matt Brown (PDC), other planners and Homer Williams: "the new highrises will be like Vancouver BC's pinpoint towers of 85 ft widths with all kinds of diagonal, straight-on view corridors". ( Note, John Ross is 130 ft wide by 200 ft long, and also note that all four Standards that attempted to somewhat achieve Vancouver look-a-likes were eliminated by the planners/developers after the SoWhat Agreement was signed by Council.)

Bob Thompson (architect): "the John Ross will be an architectural 'signature' building and that is why we want the floor plate to be larger than what is allowed". One can see an oval shaped building in about every major US city with a glass facade-how is the Ross "a signature building"?

Park planners and PDC staff: "the fantastic neighborhood park will be built by the spring of 06". There is not even enough money in the budget to even start it now.

Matt Brown- PDOT and Planners: "the transportation improvements at the South and North Portals, the only access to NM, will be developed concurrent with the development of NM". The present transportation improvements budgets exceed $170M, but only about $60M has committed funds and not one project is even on the drawing boards.

Larry Brown and Rachel Blackmen (PDC senior planners for SoWhat): "PDC doesn't include the financing costs of projects within a urban renewal area as a total cost of a district". The now old SoWhat budget of $288M (all projects in SoWhat have exceeded budgets) could easily surpass $2.2 BILLION dollars owed by taxpayers when debt services is included for a 20 year life of the URA which is usually extended even more.

Mayor Katz, other politicians, planners, PDOT: Thank you for having us at your neighborhood meeting-the proposed tram we envision will cost about $8.5M." The actual cost with debt services and all the other line items that CoP leaves out exceeds $170 MILLION.

Planners, PDOT, PDC, Politicians, OHSU, Developers: "We envision 10,000 biotech jobs according to our studies and OHSU consltants and Biotech Director". Not one new biotech job has been generated even though taxpayers gave $5 MILLION in "accelerator funds" in just the first OHSU health club building to do such.

PDOT and planners: "We have spent over 5 years in public meetings reviewing the future lightrail crossing to serve Milwauke and the east side and have concluded that the SW Caruthers crossing near the Marquam Bridge is the best choice". Five years later, today, "we need to reevaluate where the lightrail crossing should be located".

I could easily continue. But this demonstrates what Portland Planning is all about. This is not naysayer examples, but should be used as a learning tool for the future.


"Later, we head to Collingwood Village, on the outskirts of Vancouver, where Pat Wotherspoon, the assistant director of the City Plans office, showed off the area’s large condo towers, all built on a piece of former industrial land.

In exchange for the rights to build 2,800 condos and apartments, the developer built an elementary school, a sports field complex, a day-care facility and community center.

“Everything that you see here, including every blade of grass, was paid for by the developer,” he said, with obvious pride."

Above what REAL planners do that are public servants.

At least when Sam the Tram runs for the Mayor's seat, he can tout the sustainability of the traffic mess he helped create!

I checked out the South Waterfront today for the first time on my lunch hour. I went by streetcar and did get a look at the Tram, the OHSU Fitness Center and the three giant condo towers. Unless you like living on a big construction site that smells like a swamp I don't see what is so appealing about it. After about 10 minutes I jumped back on a streetcar and rode back to town. I was reminded of what Gertrude Stein said about her hometown of Oakland, "There is no there, there."

Just wait, Tom, if we throw another $300 million of public money at it, it will be paradise.

Here are some more zingers from different public figures.

Sam Adams: "We need to get a handle on the tram costs, see where we are, since the tram will be costing $45M. I promise I will have an open mind and get to the bottom of this. I'll honestly consider stopping this project. You know, I wasn't around when the city got into this project. I need to study and catch up."

City planning staff at the last two Council hearings: "The visuals and calculations by the neighborhood association are not accurate. The 325 ft height limit will not block the views of Mt. Hood from anywhere along the CoP's Terwilliger scenic protected corridor." Fact: The view is blocked especially from the north turnout viewpoint and there can be another 52 buildings built per SoWhat zoning comparable to what has been recently built blocking even more views.

Mayor Katz at City Council SoWhat hearings: (Sam, senior advisor to Katz) "Planning staff, please fill me in on if the neighborhood testimony has exaggerated the density, height, the number of buildings that can potentially be built in NM. I'm thinking there will be about 3 or 4 of the buildings in the 250ft to 325ft range, is that right?". Staff-"That is a good estimate-3 or 4; we think the computer visuals and drawings CTLH has presented are an exaggeration." How wrong they were, and both Katz and staff knew it when they said it.

Mark Williams (OHSU development director): "OHSU has been very generous in paying its way, and more, in the development of NM". OHSU gets 50 cents of every dollar in any lobbying dollars received for SoWhat. OHSU got $5M of TIF (public tax dollars) for biotech incentives in the new OHSU doctors health club that pays no taxes of any kind. OHSU got $3M two years ago for 100 future parking spaces in OHSU's future 1200 parking space garage even if the city elects not to put affordable housing over a portion of the garage.That was like a "premature loan". The present budget for SoWhat gives OHSU over $18.5M for three diffent "accelerator" (job creation-biotech incentives, etc.) line items out of the present public TIF dollar expenditures spent of $80M-more than 20% of the present budget. Plus, taxpayers have, will be paying for all the infrastructure improvements around the OHSU property-but OHSU pays no property taxes to offset these costs. The OHSU list goes on.

I don't think the taxpayers of Portland can continue being so gracious for all the affordable housing, public parks, greenways, transportation improvements, and biotech jobs generated by SoWhat. But we have the tram.

Insane story about the Beaverton Round.
That's the 3rd developer to walk.

Funny thing is Metro recently forked over million so Beaverton could buy the old Westgate Theator site and add it to the Round debackle.
The Round is a calossal failure of mixed use transit oriented development.

Just like Cascade Station it was meant to be a bustling ped/bike/transit friendly mini city.
Multiple failures, housing units cancelled, generic offices added and the whopper is they added a 7 story parking garage, now the tallest building in Beaverton. Good planning! Planners.

And I don't mean the little people drafters. I meant the BS artist planning hierarchy.

""The visuals and calculations by the neighborhood association are not accurate." BUT THEY WERE ACCURATE!

And the visuals and calculations were available for everyone to view at some of the final hearings and to be openly challenged, mathematically. BUT no one on CoP staff did. It was obvious that the deal was sealed!

Vera Katz, Tom Potter, Sam Adams, and the CoP staffers sat in their offices, took their marching orders from the behind-the-scenes power brokers, then they come out and tell the world that all is well. Then, if anyone asks an intelligent question of REAL future cost, or provide factual information, they are accused of being dishonest, lying, unfactual or just plain unreliable.

Wake up Portland... and get involved, even more so. With the present leadership, it isn't going to get any better. 2008!

Carol, Carol, Carol. Sam Adams is the next mayor. The beat will go on and on and on. Until the municipal bankruptcy.

We can all wish for a different outcome, but it isn't going to happen.

Just remember the City Engineer and City Planner at the time now have jobs with the developer.

Technically, I think everyone who holds an office for the city "works for the developers" in one way or another.

Insane story about the Beaverton Round.
That's the 3rd developer to walk.

Hmm, so thats why construction stopped. For a while I was catching MAX there in the morning, and one day a few months ago, the construction just stopped, with stuff half-done.

"The beat will go on and on and on."

I apologize... how could I be so foolish to think that change could happen in our Portland city government. I'll try to refrain from such oubursts in the future. My kids actually think I'm a leftover activist fom the 70's... imagine that.

Carol: You must fight. We must fight. But the prospects are not good.

...And so it goes...

"We must fight. But the prospects are not good."

IDEA: ask Sam the Tram to declare a BUILDING MORATORIUM for SOWHAT after he gets wind of a rumor that WALMART is looking at the bottom floor of the JOHN ROSS building for one of their largest retail outlets in the Pacific Northwest. It worked for him at Jantzen Beach, why not apply the principal to SOWHAT?

After hearing some recent comments about WalMart considering lawsuits against CoP for unfair fed law practices concerning special treatment of IKEA vs. WalMart, maybe that will also encourage Sam to declare a moratorium for SoWhat.

Considering all the empty space in South Waterfront a Walmart there might not be a bad idea. One though without a parking lot so it would be for the exclusive use of the condo dwellers and not create any traffic problems due to the limited access to South waterfront which at this point seems to consist of street cars and trams. It would be a captive market and perhaps even draw tenants to the area. They would have one stop shopping within walking distance of their condo. I can see it now hordes of condo dwellers pushing shopping carts loaded down with provisions.

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