In the trams shadow
Man helped build it but doesn't like how it came about
Jason Ferrans probably has more mixed feelings about the Portland Aerial Tram than anyone else in town.
Ferrans is a ironworker who has spent the past four months working on the tram that will connect South Waterfront to the Oregon Health and Science University's facilities on Marquam Hill.
Although Ferrans admits he has made 'good money' working on the project, he and his wife also own a small house under the tram path - and he resented how the City Council pushed the project on the neighborhood.
'I didn't like the way the city strong-armed everybody. It made me think, What if they wanted to put a freeway ramp through here?' says Ferrans, a 'decker' who also has helped move large metal pieces into place on such local projects as the Oregon Convention Center expansion.
After hearing similar complaints from other neighbors, city officials began talking about offering to buy their homes two years ago. The discussions prompted the Ferrans to decide to sell their house at 0110 S.W. Gibbs St.
They bought a new home in Aurora and moved there - with their young son, Al - six months ago, even before the city made an offer on the property.
But when the Ferrans received the offer from the city in June, they thought it was unreasonably low and rejected it. The city offered $209,000 for the property, even though Multnomah County lists its market value at $262,470.
'That was ridiculous,' Ferrans says, claiming he and the city disagree over the condition of the two-bedroom, one-bath home, built in the 1880s.
The Ferrans rejected the offer in July and decided to put the house on the market for about $285,000. But before they could list it, the city moved all the parking off their street so that tram project crews could erect large temporary towers to help string the cables that will carry the cabins.
'I couldn't even show the house. There were concrete barriers and steel towers all up and down the street,' Ferrans says while standing on his front porch Wednesday afternoon.
When the towers came down last month, the couple immediately decided to put up a 'for sale' sign. But even then the tram project stood in the way of a quick transaction.
The tram will not start full-time operations until late January. According to Ferrans, although several people already have looked at the house, no one will commit until they see how close the tram cabins will come to it.
Even once the tram starts operating, Ferrans is afraid the real estate market may have cooled off too much.
'The two years that I've been dinking with the city have been two of the hottest real estate markets ever. Now I may have missed it,' he says.
Still, Ferrans does not totally blame the city for his situation.
'I could have made up my mind and moved faster,' he admits.
City offers not taken
Although many residents living under the tram originally opposed the project, only one other person pursued the city offer to buy their home. Kathleen Root owned an 1893 Victorian that has been converted to apartments at the corner of Southwest Gibbs Street and Corbett Avenue.
Art Pearce, the Portland Office of Transportation manager in charge of the tram project, said she rejected the offer because it included a 6 percent deduction for the traditional real estate fee.
'She said that if she was going to sell the house, she'd sell it herself,' he says.
Root could not be reached for comment, and the city would not release any details about its offer, citing confidentiality concerns. Although Pearce defends both offers as reasonable, he is disappointed by the outcomes.
'The whole point of making the offers was so people would have good will toward the city. Now they don't,' Pearce says.
The city never before has offered to buy the property of anyone who believes it will be adversely affected by a publicly supported project. Commissioner Dan Saltzman asked the council to approve the unique program because of complaints from neighborhood residents that the tram cabins passing over their homes could hurt their livability and reduce their property values.
The program approved by the City Council called for an appraisal of the property of any interested homeowner, to be paid for by the homeowner at a cost of $250.
If the homeowner accepted the appraisal, the city then would enter an agreement with the homeowner to help put the house on the open market. If the homeowner could not get a higher price, the city would agree to buy the house for the appraised price - essentially guaranteeing a sales price.
The city sent letters outlining the program to all property owners living in their properties under the tram.
Five homeowners originally expressed interest in the program. After several meetings, only the Ferrans and Root agreed to participate and pay the $250 appraisal fee. However, regardless of his mixed feelings, Ferrans says he is proud to have worked on the tram.
'It is one of the most prestigious construction projects on the West Coast,' he says.
Controversy's nothing new
The tram project has been plagued by controversy from the start. In addition to the neighborhood opposition, project costs have quadrupled from the original $15 million estimate to more than $50 million.
The city's costs have increased from $3 million to $8.5 million, with OHSU and South Waterfront property owners picking up the balance.
Despite the controversy, the project is nearing completion. OHSU President Joe Robertson accepted the keys to the tram from Commissioner Sam Adams at a Sunday ceremony. OHSU will operate the tram, while Adams is in charge of the city transportation office.
Adams also is scheduled to participate today in tram rescue operations being conducted by the Portland Bureau of Fire, Rescue and Emergency Services and Doppelmayr CTEC, one of the tram construction companies that has been retained by OHSU to operate it.
The city is requiring that Doppelmayr be certified to cooperate with city emergency workers before the tram begins carrying passengers. It already is equipped with duplicate mechanical and electrical systems designed to keep it moving in case of power failures.