Audience makes its Burnside vote clear
PDC: Public support is not the only factor in picking a developer
If public support was the only factor, the Portland Development Commission probably would pick Beam Construction and Management LLC to build the Burnside Bridgehead project, a remake of five blocks at the east end of the Burnside Bridge.
The three development companies vying for the project presented their proposals to the commission's board of directors Wednesday afternoon. City Commissioner Sam Adams also attended the meeting, which drew many people opposed to including a big-box retailer in the project.
Silence speaks volumes
The standing-room-only crowd enthusiastically applauded after Beam owner Brad Malsin finished outlining his proposal, which would be anchored by local businesses, nonprofit organizations and live-work spaces.
'We've always thought outside the big box,' he said to laughter from the audience.
The crowd remained silent after the other two developers Ñ Gerding/Edlen Development Co. LLC and Opus Northwest LLC Ñ finished speaking. No one applauded when both developers said they would drop the big-box anchors from their projects.
The audience didn't even react when Gerding/Edlen presented a new proposal that replaced its original Home Depot anchor with dozens of live-work spaces.
'The fact that they included Home Depot in the first place shows they are out of touch with Portland,' said attorney Emily Simon, co-chairwoman of the land use committee of the Kerns Neighborhood Association, whose boundaries encompass the project site.
Simon also questioned whether Opus was serious about dropping Lowe's Home Improvement Warehouse from its project. Although Bruce Wood, the company's senior director, repeatedly said it was not wedded to Lowe's, the store still was prominently featured in the architectural drawings he showed the board.
Adams asked Wood to prepare new illustrations without Lowe's for future consideration.
Decision time nears
The PDC board members repeatedly made it clear Wednesday that public support is not the only factor they will consider when choosing the developer at their Feb. 23 meeting. They discussed several issues that must be addressed over the next few weeks, including:
• The amount of public subsidy. The project is located in the Central East Side Urban Renewal District, which is expected to raise $19 million in property taxes that can be spent on development before the district expires in 2006. According to an analysis prepared by an evaluation committee appointed by the PDC, only the Opus proposal would require less money than that. The analysis says the Opus project needs a $6 million public subsidy. The Beam proposal requires a $20 million subsidy, while the Gerding/Edlen proposal needs $57 million in public support, according to the analysis. Although some of the support could come from tax credits and other forms of public subsidies, several board members said they hoped the Beam and Gerding/Edlin proposals could be reworked to reduce their funding 'gaps.'
• The developer's experience. The board members are concerned that Beam has never built such a large project. It is proposing a 1.7 million-square-foot development, including housing, retail, office and parking space. But the company's largest project to date Ñ the Eastbank Commerce Center, 1001 S.E. Water Ave. Ñ is 160,000 square feet. In contrast, Gerding/Edlen has built large-scale projects such as the 1.7 million-square-foot Brewery Blocks along West Burnside Street, and Opus currently is building the 470,000-square-foot Bridgeport Village shopping center in Tualatin.
• Accusations of favoritism. PDC Chairman Matt Hennessee said he is worried that some Portlanders believe the commission is too close to Gerding/Edlen. The PDC helped finance the Brewery Blocks and a number of Gerding/Edlen's other local projects. During the meeting, Hennessee said, 'I'm concerned about the number of times we've been accused of favoring Gerding/Edlen. People have asked me, 'Aren't there any other developers in Portland?''
These and other issues will be discussed during a series of public forums on the project that the PDC has set for coming weeks. The next one is a workshop from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Jan. 22 at the Oregon Convention Center, 777 N.E. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. The full PDC board and Executive Director Don Mazziotti are scheduled to attend the event, which will include small group discussions with all of them.
The board also is scheduled to take public testimony on the project at its Feb. 9 and Feb. 23 meetings. And PDC staff will discuss the project with three neighborhood associations in the project area before the board makes its final decision.
'You've told us what you don't want. Now tell us what you want,' board member Janice Wilson told the audience at the end of the hearing.