When the Portland Development Commission and the City of Portland hatched plans last year to expand urban renewal in the north and northeast parts of the city, possibly including the Rose Quarter, one Portlander saw an opportunity to bring in some much-needed cash for community organizations operating in the area.
While serving on a PDC community advisory committee on the expansion of urban renewal in the area, Roy Jay, president of the African American chamber of commerce, began advocating for an innovative community benefits agreement to be written into any development agreement for the re-development of the Rose Quarter.
Jay’s idea would provide a steady stream of revenue for over 50 community organizations in north and northeast Portland, and has strong support behind it.
However, it might collide with existing agreements the city has to renovate PGE Park into a major league soccer stadium.
Community benefits agreements have become a common feature of many PDC projects. They are legally-binding agreements, typically concerned with things like local hiring for the project, living wages, and making sure minority contractors aren’t excluded.
Strong support for a CBA emerged in the PDC community advisory committee. Before it disbanded last spring, it passed resolutions supporting the expansion of urban renewal in north and northeast Portland. It passed another asking for a strong CBA for the Rose Quarter re-development, which at that point had been taken up by another citizen committee appointed by the mayor.
Jay’s idea for a CBA is much more ambitious than others implemented elsewhere.
Under his proposal, if the Rose Quarter is re-developed, 1 percent of all gross revenue generated in it would go into a special fund that would be used to bolster over 50 different community organizations, many of which operate in north and northeast Portland. A $1.99 charge would also be tacked on to every ticket sold for any event in Rose Quarter that would also go into the fund.
A hefty sum of money could be at stake. According to Jay, about $300 million was generated in the Rose Quarter last year. One percent of that would mean $3 million.
Mayor Sam Adams appointed an advisory committee to look into the Rose Quarter re-development last year. Since July, a subcommittee, which includes Jay, has been meeting to examine the potential for a CBA.
“We have the chance to make this right by putting some teeth into this agreement,” said Jay last week at a subcommittee meeting held at the PDC headquarters.
During the public comment period of the meeting several people pointed out that the Rose Quarter was created by the city using eminent domain to seize the property of residents who ended up being displaced, and a CBA seemed appropriate given the area’s history.
Charles McGee- the executive director of the Josiah Hill III Clinic, one of the non-profits that could receive money under the community benefits agreement- invoked a passage from the Bible instructing people to love their neighbor as they do themselves in support of Jay’s idea. He also added that with better funding his clinic could serve more people.
However, a presentation by David Logsdon, the manager of the city’s spectator facility fund, cast doubt on the viability of the community benefits agreement.
Logsdon explained that the city’s spectator facility fund is a self-sustaining fund operated by the city. The city receives 6 percent of all ticket sales at the Rose Garden and Memorial Coliseum, which go into the fund and have been used to
keep PGE Park up and running.
The Rose Quarter is currently managed by Portland Arena Management LLC, a subsidiary of Vulcan Inc., which is owned by Paul Allen.
Under the agreement the city has with PAM any new tax assessed by the city or Metro on ticket sales would be deducted dollar-for-dollar off the current 6 percent already going to the city.
The city’s deal with Portland Timbers owner Merritt Paulson to build a major league soccer stadium at PGE Park commits all revenue from the fund to go to the financial obligations of the new stadium, said Logsdon.
So any new taxes on ticket sales would make it more difficult for the city to meet its financial obligations to new MLS stadium, and could be shot down.
However, Logsdon said he wasn’t sure if the community benefits agreement amounted to a “tax.”
“That’s an issue you’d want a legal analysis done to,” said Logsdon.
Jay seemed to be taken a bit aback by the new information. But later said he remained committed to his vision, and confident that it would reach fruition because of the clear benefits it would bring to the area. He also referred to his proposed $1.99 charge on tickets as a “service fee.”
“It is not a tax; we never want to cuss in public,” said Jay jokingly.
Karen Gibson, a professor of urban studies at Portland State University, said that it’s still possible to get a robust CBA that will bring jobs and training to the community impacted by the Rose Quarter re-development. But it will require a groundswell of community support.
“People need to make a stink,” she said. “They need to get organized.”
The subcommittee will meet one last time to finalize its recommendations on Thursday, Sept.
23 27 at 5:30 p.m. at the Portland Development Commission building. The recommendations will go to a PDC study group as well as a broader committee charged with overseeing the redevelopment of the Rose quarter. City Council will have the final say.