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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on March 2, 2011 8:44 AM. The previous post in this blog was Full employment for Portland!. The next post in this blog is Portland sign crusade being run out of Water Bureau. Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.

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Wednesday, March 2, 2011

A broken promise in Buckman

It was a little over seven years ago that the Portland City Council voted to start negotiating with the local school district to buy the long-empty Washington High School complex at SE 12th and Stark and turn it into a community center run by the parks bureau. It was a rare victory for the long-suffering Buckman neighborhood, which watched for years as the city built fancy swimming pools and other facilities in other parts of town while leaving close-in southeast residents lacking for recreational opportunities.

"It's already being built," said Francesconi, referring to the long-standing push for such a community center for inner southeast Portland. "You folks in the central east side have been building it." He also said making sure the community center happens is his "number one priority."

Saying that the City should do more of this sort of thing, Commissioner Leonard said, "I'm very pleased we've come to this opportunity." Commissioner Erik Sten added that this was "a terrific first step, and a long time in coming."

Mayor Vera Katz said that she has the responsibilty to see that the project goes forward, but cautioned that the process is just beginning. Funding, for example, will have to come from a "combination of a lot of different sources" because "there is no pocket left to pick."

Well, guess what. The city bought some of the property around the school, apparently for $2 million, tearing down the gym and some other structures, but didn't buy the main building itself. Several options were being discussed for the community center configuration, but now the school district's selling the structure to one of Portland's many apartment mongers, who is slated to turn it into "housing and business space" with the historic features of the building preserved.

One outraged neighbor writes us to complain that when the city was discussing a purchase of the main building for the community center, the school district was asking $8 million. But "once a developer weasel had been selected (non-competitively, of course) the price magically dropped to $2 million." The county tax assessor lists the real market value of the property as $3,308,270.

There has been some talk of having the parks bureau lease the ground floor of the renovated high school from the developer for some community center-type functions. That prospect has fallen by the wayside in the latest news report, but even if it's still on the table, it's a far cry from what the neighbors were promised seven years ago. It's sad that with all the money the city has for neon rose signs, streetcars, bike paths, bioswales, and so on, there's no money for a recreational facility in the heart of Portland.

It's also kind of odd that the public schools would sell the building to the developer, and then the public parks would lease part of it back from him. But isn't that the Portland way? The real estate sharpies get the taxpayers coming and going.

It could have been worse. When an old property is left to rot, Buckman usually gets a methadone clinic, a homeless shelter, or some other high-impact social service facility in its place. But more apartments? Sheesh. Thanks for nothing.

And get used to this. The condo scoundrels are licking their chops over lots of the school district's other properties, especially Lincoln High School. The sweet Washington High deal is the first of many to come. As they used to say at the old WaHi prom, the boys have already gotten to third base with the politicians.

Comments (38)

Really jack? Do you really want the City to take over a huge, dilapidated (and admittedly gorgeous and historic) structure and operate it entirely as a community center? What do you think the annual costs and net losses on a venture like that would be? Indeed, why not sell a large part of it off to developers, generate some cash, and use that to build, rehab, or operate a community center? Is there even a specific need in Buckman? As a Sunnyside resident, I'm not sure. I enjoy your blog but strongly disagree with your point of view that public private ventures must always be a net loss for the city or residents.

This is just sad. But not really unexpected. It was just put on hold after "the Don" and his bunch including Matt Hennessee, (another pedophile) were set temporarily packing. I think it was always meant to be done this way from the beginning.
I wonder when or even IF the Portland voters will ever get out their pitchforks and shovels and get rid of at least some of the "elected" officials who allow this stealing of resources from the residents of the city.

Dear Phil P,
I cannot think of one 'public private venture' that the city of Portland has done that has benefited anyone but the developer.
Please correct me if I am mistaken.

I'm with you Portland Native. At what point will the citizens wake up and take back our city from these jerks? When will enough be enough? Ask the people in Egypt, etc.

"...when the city was discussing a purchase of the main building for the community center, the school district was asking $8 million..."

Even the school district knows that the city is the biggest sucker in the real estate game.

The "city" isn't a sucker. It's a tool.

Vote no on the bond measure: they have demonstrated time and again that more money is not the solution.

Forcing them to live within their means will make them think twice about developer giveaways.

"It could have been worse. When an old property is left to rot, Buckman usually gets a methadone clinic, a homeless shelter, or some other high-impact social service facility in its place. But more apartments? Sheesh. Thanks for nothing."

That could be said about Old Town too. They know about broken promises.

As far as developers go, Venerable is about the best out there. They do very nice stuff that preserves the historic fabric of Portland. They did the White Stag Block -- turned out great.

I have no issue with PPS selling the building and Parks not taking on a boondoggle, the only issue I see here is whether or not PPS is getting fair market value for the structure...given history, I doubt it.

As a former student of Wa-Hi, it is very sad that this building can't be preserved in the public space.

We so easily discard the old for the shiny (and usually crappier) new.

This Building has so much history that turning it over to the construction mafia is just wrong- both morally and fiscally.

Ralph -

Tour the White Stag Block, then you'll see that having Venerable handle the building IS the best way to preserve it.

I agree, it would have been nice to see a public use for it, but given how Portland can't do anything for the public benefit in a financially feasible manner...this is something best left to the private market.

Provided, however, that PPS doesn't leave any money on the table (cough, cough).

Portland, "The City That Works You Over".

In the abstract I like the idea of the public owning a great old building like Washington High School, but I think Phil P. above has a point. What, exactly, would Portland Parks do with such a huge building? What, exactly, does "community center" even mean? And why does Buckman need its own dedicated community center? Is there a shortage around town of affordable classroom and meeting space, therefore making it important to dedicate the old Washington High School to that purpose?

I understand the desire to have more outdoor park space in densely populated southeast Portland--but a very large publicly owned building dedicated to no essential or even well-defined purpose? That seems pretty goofy in its extravagance. The parks departments in this and many other cities seem to have a hard time even maintaining rest rooms in the parks.

If anyone who has knowledge of the neigborhood's goals for the building can enlighten me on what the neighborhood residents were specifically after, and how they expected to achieve it, I'd appreciate it.

Richard--Excellent points! Thank you. The White Stag is an excellent example as well, as is the B&0 warehouse in the east side. And the later produces property tax revenue!

A centrally located property already owned by the public is being given away to a private developer, when there is a laundry list of unmet public needs in this neighborhood. That should be criminal.

We keep hearing the word "equity" from elected officials, but time after time, they pass up the chance to follow through on meeting long-identified community needs outside of downtown and "The Pearl(tm)" in order to give way assets from our dwindling Portland commons to real estate deals for private profit. I don't care how much historic preservation lipstick they put on this deal, it still squeals like a pig.

Where and how do the people who call keeping and using this property as a public asset a "boondoggle" imagine we are going to site an inner SE community center, as has been planned and promised for decades? We are going to condemn and/or buy it out of private ownership somewhere else? Oh, sure.

The answers to the "what for" questions above are all available in Council-adopted long term planning documents going back decades.

"And get used to this. The condo scoundrels are licking their chops over lots of the school district's other properties, especially Lincoln High School. The sweet Washington High deal is the first of many to come."

It isn't even the first. Linnton School was converted to condos back in the early '90's. Then Kennedy school was made into a hotel. To learn the fate of 30 other former PPS schools, check this out:

http://cheatinginclass.com/2010/04/pps-schools-where-are-they-now/

Bulldog1, most interesting post. It is sad that our news media hasn't followed up with coverage that Zarwen and others researched. They don't even have to do much investigative work, just report it. But even more sad is that our politicians are ignoring its message.

Let's be honest about some facts. A lot of these schools are quite old, and despite our fondness for them for whatever reason, albeit personal or merely architectural, I'm sure they have a lot of issues that are potentially hazardous to our children.

That said, when needed by the community they should be rebuilt. When not needed they should be mothballed or temporarily used for some other purpose while staying on the rolls as an available property for the public benefit.

Sadly, this isn't what happens. The developer-planner cabal look into their crystal ball and declare "there will be no children in the future", so they get closed and sold off to subsidize more family unfriendly designer urban experiences and convert more playgrounds into parks and toilets for dogs, which in turn prompts angry families to pack up their tax base and head for the suburbs, making the prediction come true.

It's my understanding that the property has been up for sale for awhile and this is the first buyer to come along and make an offer that is in the realm of reality. Commercial property is now selling at a very deep discount compared to prices that were being pulled down 3 years back. The building itself needs extensive renovation, and there are probably very few potential buyers who are willing to put up the cash for purchasing the building, who would then turn around and the renovate it into a mixed use property in such a way that preserves its historical character. Venerable and Art De Muro have a great track record for doing an impeccable job of developing historical properties...in fact that's all they do as far as I can tell. (They developed Firehouse No. 7 which is neighbors the property at 11th and Stark)They are far from being "construction mafia", "apartment developer weasels" or whatever, and one might question the wisdom of their investment in the current economy. The neighbors hoping and wishing that the building would be tricked out into a long overdue community center on the public dime is unrealistic in this economy. point. Hopefully something can be done down the road with the other part of the property that was previously purchased by the city.

The neighbors hoping and wishing that the building would be tricked out into a long overdue community center on the public dime is unrealistic in this economy.

Bull. The promises were made seven years ago, when the economy was great. It was just a lie. The city knocked the gym down on the public dime to make life easier for the developer. Now the public will get little or nothing. Please spare me the "economy" line -- it's like Sam Adams opening every speech about how it's the national recession, "worst since the Depression," is what's holding Portland back.

What's holding Portland back is its arrogance and complete lack of sensible public priorities. Washington High is a case in point.

Touché, monsieur Bog.

Absolutely!!! Jack

According to the Daily Journal of Commerce Art DeMuro has had his hand on this property at least since Dec of 2009.
It was just a matter of time...
This guy flies under the radar most of the time and that is the way he likes to do business, and he is pretty good at it.
Community center???...never! was gonna happen.

Portland Native...Art DeMuro is an anomaly. He's a guy that truly cares about historic preservation, building with integrity, and how Portland can be preserved fro the next generation; he's far from being a developer just trying to get a hand-out. I'd venture to guess that a lot of his projects are a loss initially but because he's a long-term player...he's looking at the big picture which includes how structures can be preserved for generations to come.

Of all the developers out there, DeMuro seems to always to the right thing for the long term.

My only beef with this is whether or not PPS is getting a good deal...

How about whether inner SE is getting more housing for rich people or it's own version of the Multnomah Arts Center? How about whether inner SE is getting a long-needed pool or more empty restaurants for MIA uber-professionals on expense accounts? How about TBA and six more events like it around the calendar? How about a creative micro-business incubator?

This is all about a small cadre of privileged people greasing the skids to steal a needed public asset. Fixing it up nice for well-heeled visiting West siders is not a fair trade for the theft.

"Bull. The promises were made seven years ago, when the economy was great. It was just a lie. The city knocked the gym down on the public dime to make life easier for the developer. Now the public will get little or nothing."


In my opinion it makes way more sense to build the community center from the ground up on the adjacent acreage already purchased by the city as opposed to reconfiguring an old building that probably needs to be totally gutted and retrofitted at tremendous cost to the tax payers. The existing structure would probably look cool, etc. but it would have limited utility as a community center. In other words not much bang for the buck. Something along the lines of what they did at the Mt. Scott Recreation Center makes sense. It has a huge pool, sport courts, meeting space and a nice weight room. It just cracks me up when people have a hair trigger reaction and assume that just has to be an evil motive behind this kind of thing.

Apparently, the cost of building a new stand alone facility is $10 million less than retrofitting the old building. Also the "gut and stuff" option would ruin the historical character of the building. Developing the old building as a mixed use commercial with an eye to historical preservation makes sense and the school district gets $2 million to upgrade buildings that are actually being used. Sounds like a win/win to me.

http://www.oregonlive.com/portland/index.ssf/2009/10/southeast_portland_residents_w.html

How about a referendum among inner SE residents on this? Fancy condos and restaurants or modest art center plus pool and play? Double dare you.

I don't think the city ever planned on converting the school into the community center (although I may be wrong). Instead I recall the property around the school being used for fields and a community center. The school then intended to sell the school to a developer for new housing because they wanted revenue. The school has been working with developers for at least the last 4 years, if not longer. Initially, it was to be condos with a different developer but that market tanked. The school district was always a little optimistic (or plain delusional) on what the value of the building was. It requires a ton of work. I don't know if housing is a good use or not, but it is probably better than it being vacant.

Not so sure about that. Value of the building, how about the value of the land?

Public land staying in public hands is the best use and value. Land really is at a premium especially with the UGB as it is and that is why these school properties are being looked at with "real estate" eyes. Land is becoming more scarce in the UGB. What do you think new land, if there are any large parcels even left will cost the public to replace, if as they "project" millions more will be coming?

Makes no sense other than for the public to have these lands as a great investment. Certainly not to unload them when the market is down. Money as we hear is potentially slated to be devalued, but that land, and it may not even be about the building,(although restoration would be an asset and of value in the long run and to not consider that now because of economics is just short sighted) that land should stay in public ownership, good as gold or better.


Phil P.:I enjoy your blog but strongly disagree with your point of view that public private ventures must always be a net loss for the city or residents.

What are we to think, what has been the track record here on those partnerships?

"Not so sure about that. Value of the building, how about the value of the land?"

Most of the land has already been sold to the city by the school district for the specific purpose of building a community center. The old school building, which many feared would be demolished, is being purchased by the developer who intends to restore it and place it on the National Historical Register. The plan was to have a $200 million dollar park bond measure on the November 2010 ballot that would have funded a new Buckman community center, but it was decided that due to the unfavorable economic climate it wasn't a good idea to put it to the voters at this point.

Better that it stand empty than go out of public ownership. The good citizens who worked to get it into public ownership in the first place would be scandalized.

What I don't understand, help me on this:
Why if the public purchased this land and owns it, why does the public have to purchase it again for parks, and what next, for a county entity to want it and the public to buy the same public owned land a third time?

Dewey Cheatem -

Not sure what your reference to the Multnomah Arts Center means, but IMHO the building is about falling down. Huge structural, earthquake, drainage, HVAC and electric issues that PP&R can't afford to fix. They keep slapping paint and framed "murals" on it to hide the cracks.

I'm not sure what help another maintenance pit like the old WaMo building does to actually help out in providing usable, maintainable, facilities.

Nonny Mouse,
The park's budget? In your opinion, how is it being spent?

Why is money not spent for that Multnomah Arts Center? It is in constant use. What would it take in dollars to fix it? I know this sounds cynical, but do they let some things that they know are popular run down, so that the people would vote for their bond?

There have been too many pet projects throughout the years. Is that why there is not enough money then for actual needs for people in our community who use these facilities every day that would be so very beneficial?

Then there is all that money to "clean" the pond in Laurelhurst and drag the toxic stuff to Cully, and it is a mess, and as I understand, pond still will not be free of toxins.

How much money is going to top administration? How much money was spent for the master plan at Lents? I heard nearly $100,000 and that many people did not want what the planners presented anyway.

"...do they let some things that they know are popular run down, so that the people would vote for their bond?"

What? Do you mean like the Memorial Coliseum which was intentionally let go in hopes that people would accept having it torn down and then pay with new public dollars for something new for more private profit?

Anyone who argued that they've done the same with WHS would have to be very cynical. And exactly on the money, IMHO.

The point is that the entire space, structure and field, should be dedicated to the community.

Now, it will not be. Unless measures are taken early, I foresee conflicts over the field access, which will continue to considered "part" of the Wa-Mo property, even though it is now public (presumably Parks) property. Unless somehow Venerable will take the structure, improve it, and then return it to the community, the community space has been degraded. Not only an opportunity has been forgone, but a promise callously broken.


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David Sedaris - Holidays on Ice
Donald Miller - A Million Miles in a Thousand Years
Mitch Albom - Have a Little Faith
C.S. Lewis - The Magician's Nephew
F. Scott Fitzgerald - The Great Gatsby
William Shakespeare - A Midsummer Night's Dream
Ivan Doig - Bucking the Sun
Penda Diakité - I Lost My Tooth in Africa
Grace Lin - The Year of the Rat
Oscar Hijuelos - Mr. Ives' Christmas
Madeline L'Engle - A Wrinkle in Time
Steven Hart - The Last Three Miles
David Sedaris - Me Talk Pretty One Day
Karen Armstrong - The Spiral Staircase
Charles Larson - The Portland Murders
Adrian Wojnarowski - The Miracle of St. Anthony
William H. Colby - Long Goodbye
Steven D. Stark - Meet the Beatles
Phil Stanford - Portland Confidential
Rick Moody - Garden State
Jonathan Schwartz - All in Good Time
David Sedaris - Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim
Anthony Holden - Big Deal
Robert J. Spitzer - The Spirit of Leadership
James McManus - Positively Fifth Street
Jeff Noon - Vurt

Road Work

Miles run year to date: 212
At this date last year: 60
Total run in 2013: 257
In 2012: 129
In 2011: 113
In 2010: 125
In 2009: 67
In 2008: 28
In 2007: 113
In 2006: 100
In 2005: 149
In 2004: 204
In 2003: 269


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