A community advisory panel gave the green light last week to expand urban renewal in north and northeast Portland. It also expressed support for two measures meant to mitigate gentrification in the area, while delaying to weigh in on a proposal to redevelop the Rose Quarter.
In August, the Portland Development Commission, the city’s economic development arm, assembled a Community Advisory Committee of over 20 citizens, representing various interests, to evaluate the North/Northeast Economic Development Initiative, a proposal to broaden the use of urban renewal in the region.
Meeting about once a month, the committee heard about the nuts and bolts of urban renewal, the historic effects of the controversial economic tool, how residents of the area felt about it, and what it could do for the region.
The committee voted overwhelming to expand the Oregon Convention Center and the Interstate Corridor urban renewal areas to encompass the St. Johns Town Center as well as properties along Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and Alberta, Killingsworth, Lombard streets. It also voted to prioritize funding for the “Gem List,” a $70 million series of projects in the Interstate Corridor Urban Renewal Area,
The public comment period that preceded the vote revealed strong community support for the expansion of urban renewal, with several chairs of neighborhood association in north and northeast Portland speaking in favor of it
“People are coming to see this process is a necessary and intentional one,” said Chris Duffy, the chair of the Arbor Lodge Neighborhood Association.
Duffy told the Portland Observer after the meeting that residents were beginning to see urban renewal as a being as essential as city planning and a key tool to properly direct the rapid economic growth of the area.
During the meeting, Sarah Carlin Ames, representing Portland Public Schools on the committee, asked Roslyn Hill, a prominent developer on Alberta Street and committee member, for a clarification of why that street needed urban renewal when it appears to have no shortage of “chi-chi boutiques.”
Hill explained that development on the once crime-ridden street has been uneven, with many lots left vacant, and some businesses sorely lacking capital.
“It has certain areas that will never be done [without urban renewal],” said Hill.
However, support isn’t unanimous. The Eliot Neighborhood Association has come out against expanding any urban renewal district into residential areas, citing how it has historically displaced residents.
Paige Coleman, the executive director of the Northeast Coalition of Neighborhoods and member of the committee, held a series of meetings on the expansion of urban renewal earlier this year, and found that many residents felt that it yielded too few tangible benefits and the process itself was murky.
Coleman, who abstained from voting on the expansions under direction from her organization, brought a letter from the coalition that argued that expanding urban renewal should be put on hold until the PDC could prove that the Interstate Corridor Urban Renewal Area accomplished its original objectives.
The committee also delayed voting on an urban renewal area for the Rose Quarter until November, which has proven to be more complicated.
Last year, Mayor Sam Adams has made redevelopment of the area around Memorial Coliseum a priority, and assembled the Rose Quarter Stakeholder Advisory Committee to review ideas for it. In March, the committee, chaired by Adams, whittled the long list of proposals down to three, including the Portland Trail Blazers’ JumpTown entertainment district.
But action on the Rose Quarter has been delayed, after one of the project sponsors, Doug Obletz, raised strong concerns about the process. He’s pointed out that the city has an agreement with Portland Arena Management, a company with ties to the Blazers, that effectively gives it veto power over the fate of the Rose Quarter. Redevelopment of the area has come to standstill.
The committee also voted to support two proposals aimed at easing the social impact of urban renewal, which has been criticized for causing property values to soar and longtime residents to leave.
Roy Jay, a businessman and committee member who heads the African American Chamber of Commerce, has been steadily building support for a Community Development Agreement, which would direct one percent of all gross revenues generated in the Rose Quarter to community organizations.
Jay, speaking before the committee, wanted to make sure that his idea was strongly incorporated into any deal approving a Rose Quarter urban renewal area and included legally-binding language.
“It’s got to be enforceable. It can’t be a recommendation,” said Jay.
The committee voted to request that the Rose Quarter Stakeholder Advisory Committee require that there be a legal obligation to the benefits agreement in any redevelopment deal for the Rose Quarter.
It also expressed support for a community-based housing advocate program run by the Portland Housing Bureau that would assist vulnerable homeowners in north and northeast. It also called for ongoing investments in the area to prevent displacement of established residents.
The committee’s recommendations will be reviewed by the Portland Planning Commission before being sent to City Council, which will give them final approval sometime next spring.