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Thursday, August 5, 2010

Vera Katz's dream fulfilled

Yes, Portland's SoWhat District is just like New York! Both fell for the "creative class" snow job and signed up for fiscal disaster:

A working-class neighborhood became a bohemian theme park, which in turn became a fantasyland for luxury-condo developers. Now, littered with half-built shells of a vanished boom, Williamsburg is looking like something else entirely: Miami.
The whole tale, painfully familiar to Portland taxpayers, is here.

Comments (33)

“Basically, dreams were being built upon dreams. It was ridiculous, but the buyers were there.”

Of course there's the whole problem. The buyers were in fact not there--the people "there" were people who had managed to get absurd high-risk loans from banks. Nobody had any real money, but lots of people had a lot more fake money to play with. Once the fake money went away...

An empty condo tower can always be converted into a pretty exciting paintball arena.

Isn't "green" jobs along the same lines? Westcoast leaders and their followers in the electorate, go from one heavily subsidized pipe dream to the next. Sadly, this punchdrunk party is most likely to continue until Westcoast governments go into default.

Some people tried to point out that this thing was a folly but between the media and cityhall no one cared.

We may be in for another roller coaster ride
and across the country on these type of "monkey see - monkey do"
dream projects.

Did these people go to seminars - how to screw the landscape and pocketbooks of the citizenry?

Hate to be so negative, but what are we to think?

Worst of all, elected officials even in dire economic times don't seem to care about debt swamping us.

We the citizens pay for their salaries and then the bailout they need because of their actions.

clinamen ask "Did these people go to seminars - how to screw the landscape and pocketbooks of the citizenry?"

Yes in one sense they do. The planners have national seminars and they talk about the New Urbanist agenda and then they all go back to their cities, towns and villages and implement those ideas. They just had one in New Orleans I am told.

If you want to see something interesting drive to Missoula, Montana. As you come into town there are a number of New Urbanist style homes next to the freeway. Scrawny little lots,small look alike porches crowded next to a busy freeway and millions of square miles of open country all around. Pathetic.

The League of Oregon Cities is distribution central pushing all of it to every city in Oregon.
They are without ethics or competence.

The planning system has taken over and now directs both staff and elected officials to conform. They all think the planning of everything is required by unseen powers and resistance is futile.

I'd like to see one municipality say we aren't going to do it.

We're not going to take on the burden of mostly useless planning simply becasue we are expected to.

When my local city talked this week about their requirement to update their transporation plan and what it would take a councilor asked why should even bother.
He said there is no consideration of or relationship between neighboring city plans or the region.
No one could give a reason why to do it other than every city is required to.

Same goes for other planning.

Metro mandates that the city produce a development plan for our section of 99 for if and when Light rail comes.

We don't want light rail or the development mandated to be along it's corridor.

This is everywhere.

Stop the madness.

We should be focusing on the next Cascadia earthquake. The fault is 600 miles long so we will be shaking for 5 full minutes - as they probably did back in January of 1700, a date established by the "orphan tsunamis" that arrived in Japan.
Nobody knows if even modern buildings can take a 9 quake for 5 minutes and we're due. So why build giant buildings down by the river?


To look
Like Vancouver

To look
Like Vancouver

Only affordable for millionaires! See:


At the risk of being roasted alive, I think the SoWhat district will work in the long run. Seems to me that these kinds of projects are always ahead of the curve but end up working out eventually. I don't want to live there but I listen to a lot of 20 somethings who think it would be a good spot to live. I don't think they are as into lawns as the previous generation. I guess we'll see. I think they are a nice change from the barge building facilities, etc., that were there for the previous 50+ years. That couldn't have been too good for the river. Now that they are built I'll just hope for the best.

Glad you like it. If you live anywhere in the city, you'll be paying for it for the rest of your life.

I listen to a lot of 20 somethings who think it would be a good spot to live.

If they could find a job in Portland. Which they can't. And for the few who can, once they grow up and have kids of their own, they'll want a single-family home on a 50 by 100 lot. Which they won't be able to afford in Portland.

Boise's nice.

Even if you can find a job in Portland, most jobs wouldn't be enough to pay for a condo in SoWhat.

The average condo even after the Great Recession markdowns is over $415K in SoWhat. Add in the HOA fees, property taxes, parking space fees the average take-home pay must exceed $185K to live there. How many new jobs in Portland will meet that measure? Less than 1%. And most of them are government jobs as Jack's recent post on government pay at Multnomah Co. pointed out.

The way things are going down there with most new projects and future projects being OHSU, PSU, taxpayer paid Affordable Housing, and now a Federal Pen, there's little property left that will be paying property taxes and retiring the TIF debt. It's a disaster in the making. And many of us said so in the 10 years of Planning leading up to SoWhat's adoption in 1999.

And by the way, the most favored city that Planners, Commissioners, and developers cited in the endless public hearings in the planning stages was Vancouver BC. It was the utopian model of how density, high rises of thin spears would make SoWhat almost visually disappear. Vera/Sam many times expressed this great Planning insight. When I come down the Terwilliger Curve grade on I-5 into our inner city I don't see SoWhat disappearing; nor do I from our homes in Corbett, Homestead, and Lair Hill. Thanks, Vera/Sam for your astute Planning abilities.

"The towers will be like needles of a comb." Yeah, right -- more like solid wall.

Jack, I like the quote from the architect of the John Ross, Bob Thompson: "With the use of glass the 35 stories will disappear". Sure. And the Design Commission shook their heads in agreement.

Sigh. I loved this city for a very long time. Thought I would be here the rest of my life. But I know that I will never be able to afford it once I retire. The only question is where to go.

LucsAdvo: Maybe you might like it here in Reno. You can literally get just about anywhere in town in about 20 minutes. 300 days of sunshine, way lower taxes, lots of bike lanes, and lots of newer housing at lower prices. Of course you will have to give up on 7+ months of rain and gray skies, people that buy into the green/sustainable BS and progressive pols.

Actually all of our kids and their friends are gainfully employed now, although it took a little longer for most of them to find a spot initially. I've encouraged them to look in locations with much better employment numbers but they seem to enjoy it here enough that it outweighs the negatives. I guess the same way that the positives outweigh the negatives for most of us.

I thought the Cascade Station project was going to be a total disaster. But it seems to be doing pretty well now. I wouldn't know how to determine if the tax revenues are outweighing the cost of whatever debt the city incurred to get everyone to build out there. But it's definitely up and running after a decade or so. I would expect that the SoWhat will have a similar history.

I listen to a lot of 20 somethings who think it would be a good spot to live.

Which has nothing to do with the potential "success" of the South Waterfront. I listen to a lot of folks who think lots of places in town would be "a good spot to live". They can't afford any of them, though.

You'll notice the lack of tenants in South Waterfront, which says one or more of the following: these are not desirable, these are not affordable, or both.

Which is the same story that's playing out in "Billyburg" in the story linked above.

And Jane Jacobs hasn't a clue about the big picture. She never has, really; in that linked article she's quoted as having foreseen the problem--yet during a visit to Portland several years ago, she praised the development of the Pearl and South Waterfront.

My point was that it seems like the next generation isn't as excited about a single family home on a 50x100 lot as we were. So I think the SoWhat development has a chance of filling up over the next decade or so as the younger generation starts buying places to live instead of renting. I'm curious what people think should happen with the SoWhat district. Do you think these buildings should be torn down and new barge construction facilities built? Make it into a big park? Are you suggesting that the Pearl is a failure too? Personally I loved it when it was a warehouse district, but it doesn't seem to be doing too badly.

Gary, you must be be new around here. Cascade Station happens to be the exact opposite of what Planners implemented in all their 8 years of Planning. They even rezoned the whole urban renewal area to fit their goal-"a transit oriented neighborhood with no big-box businesses".

Well, it sat stagnant for 6 years until the market forced the change allowing non-transit user types of businesses and big boxes.

Yes, your Planners have it all figured out and Cascade Station is a Planning Success. I love the PR spin that Portland paints anyway it wants. You're on the team.

Actually I was born in Portland in 1955. Still live in Southeast. I watched the Cascade Station sit empty for years as I rode the Max to the airport. (and NO I don't support the crazy expansion of Max and the trolley system). I don't consider Cascade Station a failure just because it didn't meet the original specs of the planners. I don't read any of the Oregonian articles about the planning department so I'm not sure how they are spinning it one way or another. I just rode through there the other day and thought that it looked like it was doing OK.

Wow. Flashbacks to Dallas, Austin, and Houston in 1986, when the oil bust hit and all of the developers grabbed their money and ran for Rio. We didn't see a lot of those empty sockets in the ground get filled with anything for well over a decade, and we only got that construction because of the dotcom boom. Unless there's a comparable boom in the next few years, you guys are going to be dealing with that mess in SoWhat for a hell of a lot longer.

My point was that it seems like the next generation isn't as excited about a single family home on a 50x100 lot as we were.

You're confusing what's built with what's wanted. The number one type of housing selling in America--and rising--is single family homes.

So I think the SoWhat development has a chance of filling up over the next decade or so as the younger generation starts buying places to live instead of renting.

That's an astounding leap of logic over a chasm named "economic reality". This is entirely wrong, if for no other reason than *there's already a "younger generation" HERE, and they're not buying them. The economic reasons why are at the heart of the story.

I'm curious what people think should happen with the SoWhat district.

First, it's not a "district" in any meaningful sense of the word. That's an invented reality by developers to make the area appear as something that it's not. KInd of like the "Alberta Arts District" (a label invented by a realtor) is neither a "district" or a place that contains much "art".

Do you think these buildings should be torn down and new barge construction facilities built?

Now that they're here, the more appropriate question is "Do you think there should be more buildings like this?"

Make it into a big park?

Why not?

Are you suggesting that the Pearl is a failure too?

That depende a hell of a lot on whose failure you're talking about, doesn't it? But something tells me you're mainly interested in economic terms. The answer, then, is yes--unless you were a developer who built a now-occupied building.

Personally I loved it when it was a warehouse district, but it doesn't seem to be doing too badly.

Ahh, the myth continues to be refined. That area was never a "warehouse district". It was a hodgepodge of small businesses, garages, warehouses, and residences. Many of those businesses are now gone, and whether or not replacing them with upscale restaurants and boutiques for the wealthy begs many questions, primarily this one: What is Portland trying to become, and why are the city's residents becoming poorer while it happens?

Did anyone notice the publication date on this link was over a year ago? I am not sure the urgency is still real. It appears the floor did not fall out of New York in the last year.

Yes, the story's a bit old, but still valid. As are the parallels between Billyburg and SoWhat.

Did anyone notice the publication date on this link was over a year ago? I am not sure the urgency is still real. It appears the floor did not fall out of New York in the last year.

Did anyone notice that somebody complained about the South Waterfront over a year ago? I am not sure the urgency is still real. It appears the floor did not fall out of Portland in the last year.

Good grief.

I had lunch in the Pearl about 2 months ago. Hadn't been there much in over a year. I was stunned at the number of empty storefronts. Right now one could hardly call it a success.

Dave A., the desert doesn't cut it for me. I grew up around water, lots of water. A few years back, I spent 4 days in Dec. in Palm Springs. It convinced me, that I'd never want to live in the desert. Besides.... I understand Vegas (the real Vegas, not the entertainment district, that had been attracting corporate offices) is in the toilet too.

the other white meat:Ahh, the myth continues to be refined. That area was never a "warehouse district". It was a hodgepodge of small businesses, garages, warehouses, and residences. Many of those businesses are now gone, and whether or not replacing them with upscale restaurants and boutiques for the wealthy begs many questions, primarily this one: What is Portland trying to become, and why are the city's residents becoming poorer while it happens?

At the rate things are going, not only in Portland, but also in the state of Oregon, why are residents becoming poorer and what lies in our future here?

Is the state that was cared for by many - now only going to be available for extreme wealthy ones to now come in here and partake of those efforts and then the rest that can no longer afford to live here can go where??

The good work that was done to protect our state was not done so that only the wealthy could benefit . . . and that the rest of the long time citizens who worked here, whose taxes and involvement built their communites up would have to leave because of what has progressed and can no longer afford to stay in their home place. I do not call this progress. I call it shameful in some ways and stressful and sorrowful that many are having to consider after all these years leaving one's lifetime of home here, ones garden, ones family and friends. The semblance of stability has been pulled out from under many many people.

My complaint is not on those who are wealthy who saw this jewel. It is our elected officials who had other masters to please and for others to make money on this growth while we the people have been made the less fortunate. Wonder why we are poorer? The people here were paying up to billion dollars a year to make room for the growth and newcomers.

The following organization Alternatives to Growth Oregon could not continue due to lack of funding, nevertheless, their data remains.
See the PDF’s
Ground-breaking study concludes that Oregonians pay over $1 billion per year to subsidize growth in the state. 152 pages. 2002
Executive Summary of the above study. 8 pages. 2002
You may also read an HTML version of the Executive Summary.
"One of the best ways to moderate growth is to stop subsidizing it," said Eben Fodor, a Eugene community planning consultant and author of the 1999 book Bigger Not Better—How to Take Control of Urban Growth and Improve Your Community.

I believe that McCall, if he were here today, he would not approve of what he could see now. Many farmlands to have been saved for agriculture have been turned into havens for the extremely wealthy and McMansions. His followers out of respect for his vision which was wonderful for his time need to be updated. I suspect he would have.

Boise's nice.

Posted by Jack Bog | August 5, 2010 10:02 PM

Jack, I grew up in Boise, and don't know if you knew this - their City government is trying to get a streetcar built in the downtown area - similar to ours, it doesn't really go anywhere, just around in circles. They've also had a lot of overbuilding, though more of the 500K houses than condos. Maybe they aspire to be Portland!

George, I read your post above twice and I may be dense. There wasn't much information provided. Were the bioswale, parking, and retaining wall on owners property, or in the part of it in public right-of-way? Couldn't these three issues be a necessity of the project, even for a residence? I understand the issue of one residence vs. two or more. Do you know more about this case?


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