PDC may hit brakes on Burnside plans

• Flurry of comments from public reshapes 3 proposals, could slow selection of developer

The Portland Development Commission may delay choosing the developer for the Burnside Bridgehead project to accommodate community concerns.

PDC board Chairman Matt Hennessee made the pronouncement at the end of a Sunday open house on the project that drew more than 125 people to the Oregon Convention Center. Residents threw out dozens of suggestions during the two-hour session, including modeling the east-side project after Seattle's Pike Street Market and turning the area into a regional center for sustainable building designers and materials.

The project will remake five underdeveloped blocks to the north and east of the Burnside Bridge. Three firms are competing for the project. Two of them Ñ Gerding/Edlen Development Co. and Opus Northwest LLC Ñ recently dropped so-called big-box retailers from their proposals because of community opposition. They have not yet provided the PDC with revised cost estimates.

The third firm, Beam Construction and Management LLC, has proposed a project anchored by local businesses. Owner Brad Malsin said he might refine his proposal to reflect Sunday's comments, however.

'I don't know if we can make it any more local,' he said. 'We don't even have a Starbucks. But maybe there's more we can do to reflect the history of the area.'

Hennessee said the three developers and the PDC staff might need more time to respond to public comment from the open house and other recent public forums on the project, but he didn't know how long the delay might be.

Many of the people at the open house supported delaying the decision, including Michael Whitmore, a member of a PDC-appointed selection committee that is supposed to recommend a developer to the board. Whitmore said the committee doesn't yet have enough information to make a recommendation.

'We've heard a lot of good ideas today, and I don't know what to do with them,' said Whitmore, a landscape architect who represents the Kerns Neighborhood Association on the committee.

The ideas were generated during small-group discussions that took place at 15 tables during the two-hour forum. Many speakers stressed the need to help locally owned startup businesses by providing affordable office and retail space.

Several speakers said they thought the project should complement the working-class feel of the area, much of which has been designated an industrial sanctuary by the city.

'I get it Ñ you want it funky,' Hennessee said at the end of the session.

Some people were unsure whether the PDC could accommodate all the concerns.

'Everyone here has a different idea of what they want, but I think it's important that the project go forward,' said Kelsey Bunker, co-owner and manager of the Jupiter Hotel, 800 E. Burnside St.

The PDC owns two of the blocks involved and has until early 2006 to buy the remaining three or extend the purchase option for another year. A lengthy delay might eventually require the Portland City Council to extend the life of the Central Eastside Urban Renewal Area, where the project is located. The PDC's ability to issue bonds in the area is set to expire in August 2006.

The next public hearing on the project is set for 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. Feb. 9 at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, 1945 S.E. Water Ave.

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