Featured Stories

Other Pamplin Media Group sites

Local Weather

Partly Cloudy

54°F

Portland

Partly Cloudy

Humidity: 90%

Wind: 5 mph

  • 25 Oct 2014

    Showers/Wind 61°F 48°F

  • 26 Oct 2014

    Showers 56°F 47°F


Our Opinion: Old Town/Chinatown needs bold action

Mayor Charlie Hales says he’s ashamed of Portland’s Old Town/Chinatown district.

That sentiment is somewhat understandable. Despite marvelous attractions in the district, such as the Lan Su Chinese Garden and the iconic Chinatown Gate, the area also is burdened by homelessness, crime and drug use.

And while Hales’ recently passed Old Town/Chinatown Action Plan has its critics, we believe his bold initiative will provide the neighborhood with a push in the right direction.

Renovation of the brick buildings in the Old Town/Chinatown district into seismically stable structures should spur long-needed redevelopment in the area.

Commissioners Amanda Fritz and Nick Fish both expressed dissatisfaction with a provision of the plan to waive approximately $7 million in system development charges for builders who would construct 500 middle-income apartments. Fritz went as far as to characterize the SDC waivers as a subsidy to developers who would eventually build in the district anyway.

The problem with that logic is that the city isn’t receiving any system development charges from these properties now, so it’s not as if other city bureaus are losing revenue. We haven’t seen a rush of developers wanting to build in the district, so giving them some incentive is a prudent move if the city is serious about brightening up this part of downtown Portland.

Undoubtedly, the addition of educational facilities such as the Oregon College of Oriental Medicine, the Oregon College of Art and Craft and the expanded presence of the University of Oregon will contribute to a brighter Old Town/Chinatown future.

Yet, more needs to be done.

It could be argued that subsidizing middle-income housing will ultimately force out the low-income and homeless residents of the area and lead to gentrification. The reality, however, is that without middle-income residents in the neighborhood, the district will struggle to support a much-needed retail base.

The proposed development will not displace anyone. The buildings in question are presently unoccupied and the numerous social service organizations that serve the homeless population aren’t going anywhere. Unless the social service agencies move, the people they serve will

continue to come to them.

That’s one reason why this plan has strong merits. If waiving system development fees is necessary to jumpstart development, then so be it. As Brian McCarl, who hopes to renovate the Whiden & Lewis Building, said, “You can go for the capillaries or you can go for the jugular.”

This is a jugular move and could create momentum in the district.

This plan is not a solution to all the problems of Old Town/Chinatown. City officials still must work on long-term strategies to deal with homelessness and crime in the area.

The potential for Old Town/Chinatown is enormous — and such potential is deserving of bold actions to ttract the right kind of investments.