Transit mall remake is catalyst for 50 new redevelopment ventures
by: L.E. BASKOW, More than $1.5 billion is expected to be invested in redeveloping downtown Portland over the next few years. A new hotel and restaurant, set to open in 2009, is under construction in the old T&N Building at 
300 S.W. Sixth Ave.

Portland’s next mayor will have a lot of ribbons to cut. The reopening of Macy’s at Meier and Frank Square is just the first of dozens of redevelopment projects scheduled to be completed in and around downtown over the next few years. According to one projection, between 2007 and 2009 public agencies and private developers will invest more than $1.5 billion into the central city. Sandra McDonough, president and chief executive officer of the Portland Business Alliance, says the projects reflect the city’s efforts to improve the downtown core, including the $224.9 million transit-mall renovation project. “Portland has worked hard to revitalize its downtown, and those efforts are beginning to pay off,” McDonough said. The growth projection was prepared by Shiels Obletz Johnsen, a local consulting firm that is helping the city and TriMet coordinate construction of the bus mall project. Co-founder Doug Obletz also is serving as the interim director of Portland Mall Management Inc., a nonprofit organization charged by the city with maximizing the public benefit of the project when it is finished. “The public investment in the mall and a few other projects is resulting in a huge investment from the private sector,” Obletz said. “It’s a big vote of confidence in the central city.” 50 projects close to mall When it is completed in 2009, the project will add a new MAX light-rail line on Fifth and Sixth avenues between Union Station and Portland State University. The projection prepared by Obletz’s firm lists 50 separate projects on or near the mall or the downtown streetcar, including the restoration of historic buildings and the construction of new residential and office towers. Although some of the projects were finished this summer, most are set to be completed in 2008 and 2009. A handful of the projects on the list are public, including the construction of two new parks and the renovation of two existing ones. The vast majority, however, are privately owned and financed. Obletz cites the renovation of the T.N. Building at 300 S.W. Sixth Ave. as a good example of how downtown is transforming. The 1970s office building always has struggled to find tenants. But it now is being renovated into a hotel with a ground-floor restaurant. Sage Hotel Corp. is doing the work, the same company that is renovating the floors above the downtown Macy’s into a luxury hotel. “When that project is finished, it will not only revitalize a building that never caught on, but it will bring new life to the nearby blocks,” Obletz said. Because it focuses on the blocks along and near the transit mall, the consulting firm’s list does not include every recent, current or future project in the downtown area. For example, it does not include the residential tower rising in the South Waterfront area south of the Ross Island Bridge. Nor does it include the mixed-use Burnside Bridgehead project at the east end of the Burnside Bridge. Although that project was approved by the Portland Development Commission more than two years ago, the start has been delayed because developer Opus Northwest LLC has not yet secured an anchor tenant and is changing the housing mix due to the slowdown in the condominium market. Another potential project not on the list is the construction of a new city-owned parking garage in conjunction with a new office tower in the downtown Pioneer Place retail complex. According to Pioneer Place manager Blake Bishop, the company that owns the collection of shops and offices is considering adding a new tower to the so-called Rotunda Block but probably will need public assistance to accommodate the increased parking demand. No date has been set for the start of the project. Mayor gives PDC credit At the Macy’s opening, Mayor Tom Potter credited the Portland Development Commission — the city’s urban renewal agency — with helping make the downtown revitalization happen. The PDC uses specially designated property tax funds for infrastructure improvements and low-interest loans to encourage private development. “We can’t make this happen by ourselves, but the PDC can work with private businesses to develop a package of incentives to make such a project possible,” he said of the new Macy’s store. The PDC’s future role in downtown is uncertain, however. Two urban renewal areas that cover much of the retail core are set to expire next year. An advisory committee that includes representatives of the City Council, the PDC board of directors and the Multnomah County commission is studying whether they should be extended or allowed to die. The county’s representative on the board, Jeff Cogen, says that letting the South Park Blocks and Downtown Waterfront urban renewal areas expire should be seriously considered. At the present time, the property taxes within those areas dedicated to urban renewal are not available for other uses. If the areas expire, the county general fund will gain millions of dollars in property tax dollars. “I’m not opposed to urban renewal, but people need to realize that it comes at a hidden cost — services the county can’t provide because we aren’t receiving those dollars,” Cogen said. The Urban Renewal Advisory Group is scheduled to consider studying the issue through 2007, then make recommendations to the council and PDC board early next year. The PBA has recommended that the two areas be allowed to expire, but has left open the possibility that a new downtown urban renewal area be created after all existing property tax-backed bonds are paid off. “There are some projects that might make sense in the future, but we need to have public conversations about the situation so that everyone knows what the tradeoffs are,” Cogen said. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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