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2001 clearly not one of Portland’s better years

Highlights were slim in a year shattered by the Sept. 11 tragedy

Compiled by Tribune staff

There's not enough spin in the world to ever assert that 2001 was a good year for Portland.

Oh, a few good things happened:

Miss America rose from Gresham, the first Oregonian to win the honor. The rain came back É and how: We had measurable precipitation for 34 straight days, making the dreary days of December even darker. And a bunch of movie stars came to town.

But the 21st century's debut year sounded way too many sour notes locally. And, of course, 2001 will forever be marred by the tragic events of Sept. 11.

Here in Portland, the first ominous signs that it might not be such a good year came only a few minutes into 2001 when vandals trashed downtown stores in a fit over not finding a New Year's Eve party at Pioneer Courthouse Square. And then we had an earthquake.

In the months afterward, the movie, 'The Hunted,' left town abruptly after one of the stars, Benicio Del Toro, broke his wrist in a fight scene with Tommy Lee Jones. The billing computers for the Portland Water Bureau went screwy, Portland General Electric's parent company went bankrupt, and the Oregon economy went down the tubes. As 2002 began, Oregon had the highest unemployment rate in the country and no real hopes for a quick rebound.

No surprise, then, that a few things we used to see around town weren't here anymore. The hemisphere's biggest dry dock sailed off to the Bahamas; Fujitsu shut down; Ben Canada quit the schools; and the Church of Elvis, the city's kitschiest landmark, just plain quit Ñ closing its doors for good.

But news doesn't end after it stops being news. It ages. Things happen, even after the media spotlight has shifted elsewhere. So, the Tribune thought it would give readers a rundown of some of the year's highlights and lowlights Ñ and then bring you up-to-date on what's happened since the news was new.

People carried on, a reminder that bleak years often evolve into a better ones.

• • •

THE HEADLINE: 'Midtown Showdown,' Feb. 9, 2001

WHAT HAPPENED: A volunteer group of civic leaders led by Neil Goldschmidt, the former Portland mayor and Oregon governor, proposed tearing down more than a dozen downtown buildings and replacing them with a 10-block park through the heart of downtown.

THE UPDATE: The City Council never embraced the proposal, in large part because many of the buildings that would have to be demolished are historic and full of small businesses and low-income residents. The Council directed the Portland Development Commission, the city's urban renewal agency, to study development and financing options, including the formation of a new downtown urban development district.

But even that approach was thrown into question in late December when the Oregon Supreme Court ruled that the PDC has been misinterpreting the state's urban renewal laws for the last seven years. Instead of forming new development districts in the future, the council may have to refund up to $30 million in urban renewal funds collected since 1996.

• • •

THE HEADLINE: 'Oregon's leading man,' March 20

WHAT HAPPENED: Nine months ago, University of Oregon quarterback Joey Harrington, a graduate of Portland's Central Catholic High School, began preparing for a season in which he would lead Oregon to a 10-1 record, a Pacific-10 Conference title and a berth in the Fiesta Bowl against Colorado.

THE UPDATE: Buoyed by the publicity generated by a 100-foot poster in Times Square, Harrington became Heisman Trophy material. He was named one of four Heisman finalists after completing 57.8 percent of his passes for 2,414 yards and 23 touchdowns with only five interceptions.

If the Ducks beat Colorado in today's Fiesta Bowl, and Nebraska beats Miami in the Rose Bowl, Oregon could garner enough votes to be named national champion by The Associated Press.

Harrington, meanwhile, has been working out for NFL scouts and probably will be drafted in the first three rounds of April's draft.

• • •

THE HEADLINE: 'SERT affair adds to Kroeker's woes,' March 27

WHAT HAPPENED: Police Chief Mark Kroeker suspended 29 members of the bureau's elite Special Emergency Response Team after officer Liani Reyna, its first female officer, accused colleagues and superiors of subjecting her to a hostile work environment. She said she had to participate in degrading, sexually explicit skits during training.

THE UPDATE: Kroeker eventually reactiviated the team, but the official investigation, although complete, remains secret while under review by the police bureau and the Portland city attorney. Top police officials will determine whether officers violated bureau general orders and, if so, whether penalties are warranted.

• • •

THE HEADLINE: ' 'The Hunted' loves a rainy day,' March 30

WHAT HAPPENED: 'The Hunted' spent 13 weeks filming in and around Portland with four Academy Award winners, including stars Tommy Lee Jones and Benicio Del Toro and director William Friedkin.

THE UPDATE: The action thriller's highly successful 13-week shoot ended abruptly June 15, only five days before completion, when Del Toro broke his wrist filming a fight scene with Jones at Silver Falls State Park. The stars will return to Oregon this month to complete filming, but Paramount Pictures hasn't yet set a release date.

• • •

THE HEADLINE: 'Hospital shooting raises questions,' April 6

WHAT HAPPENED: Portland police shot to death a psychiatric patient at the former BHC-Pacific Gateway Hospital.

THE UPDATE: The patient, Jose Santos Victor Mejia Poot, hadn't been taking medication for his epilepsy. The 29-year-old Mexican national was mistakenly sent to a mental hospital after police arrested him for an incident on a Tri-Met bus. The shooting sparked community outrage, Pacific Gateway's closure and hospital oversight reforms.

Mejia's family filed a $2.5 million wrongful death suit against the hospital and Providence Health System, which handled Mejia's psychiatric placement. The case was settled out of court for $750,000, but attorneys for Mejia's family continue to work on their suit against the city of Portland.

• • •

THE HEADLINE: 'Remedies needed for critical nursing shortage,' April 10

WHAT HAPPENED: Health care officials in Oregon and the nation realized that registered nurses are in short supply, which could endanger patient care.

THE UPDATE: An April 2001 report showed a number of problems: Nurses are aging while an aging population needs more of them; patients are more demanding; hours are longer; fewer students are attracted to the profession; and compensation often is perceived as inadequate.

Underscoring that last point was the December strike by 1,500 registered nurses at Oregon Health & Science University. In response, the Oregon Leadership Council formed the Oregon Center for Nursing, which opens Wednesday, to increase enrollment in Oregon nursing programs and find ways to make the profession more appealing.

• • •

THE HEADLINE: 'Timber Tinderbox,' May 1

WHAT HAPPENED: Willamette Industries Inc., Portland's last Fortune 500 company, became the object of a hostile takeover bid by Weyerhaeuser Co., its giant longtime rival based in Federal Way, Wash.

THE UPDATE: Corporate takeovers rarely play out in such dramatic fashion, with employee demonstrations and the overtone of a nasty family fight because Steven Rogel, Weyerhaeuser's chairman and chief executive officer, spent most of his career at Willamette. Weyerhaeuser won a round in June by seizing three seats on Willamette's board, but Willamette fought back by moving to acquire a unit of Georgia-Pacific Corp., making the new company inedible for Weyerhaeuser. Weyerhaeuser offers of $48 and $50 a share were rejected, and Willamette begins 2002 considering a 'final offer' of $55. Talks continue.

• • •

THE HEADLINE: 'Thorne quits port to campaign,' May 11

WHAT HAPPENED: Mike Thorne resigned after 10 years as Port of Portland executive director to run for governor.

THE UPDATE: Within a few months, Thorne abandoned his gubernatorial campaign, and the Pendleton rancher started 2002 under consideration for a job as director of the Washington State Ferries. Port commissioners, meanwhile, selected Bill Wyatt, the governor's chief of staff, to take Thorne's place. Wyatt went through a turbulent debut as the port struggled to upgrade security after the Sept. 11 hijackings. But PDX passenger numbers started rebounding, and Wyatt became an ardent advocate for one of Thorne's pet projects: deepening the Columbia River channel.

• • •

THE HEADLINE: 'Board member: Canada on the way out,' May 15

WHAT HAPPENED: Portland Schools Superintendent Ben Canada resigned after three years with the district as board members and education activists grew increasingly frustrated with district management and the pace of school improvements

THE UPDATE: After dispatching a committee to talk with community members over the summer about what they want in a superintendent, the school board last month started evaluating the credentials of people who want the job. The board hopes to choose three to five finalists in February. It then will interview them publicly, with members of the community taking part. The board hopes to have a contract signed by the next superintendent as early as March.

• • •

THE HEADLINE: 'Huge dock headed for island life,' May 25

WHAT HAPPENED: For $25 million, Portland's Cascade General sold Dry Dock 4 to the Grand Bahama Shipyard in Freeport, The Bahamas.

THE UPDATE: Less than a year after buying it, the shipyard said it no longer needed the 22-year-old, 982-foot-long floating dry dock, the largest in the Americas. The dock left Portland under tow in July, headed across the Pacific and arrived in Freeport on Dec. 8 after a trip through the Suez Canal. The trade paper Cruise Industry News said the Carnival Corp. and Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. will share ownership of the dock, ideal for servicing giant cruise ships. The dock should be ready for operation in February, with a cruise ship scheduled for a mid-March servicing. The shipyard, which employed 1,000 people at its peak before the dry dock's departure, now employs about 500 at full operation.

• • •

THE HEADLINE: 'East Meets West: Opening of Eastbank Esplanade gives the Willamette River a new look,' May 29

WHAT HAPPENED: After three years and $30 million, the city opened the Eastbank Esplanade, a 1.3-mile pedestrian and bicycle path along the east side of the Willamette River.

THE UPDATE: The Esplanade proved hugely successful. Bikers, pedestrians, rollerbladers and skateboarders found room to ramble and a front row seat for holiday fireworks, the Rose Festival fleet and Christmas ships. The floating walkway, however, also collects floating debris when heavy rains overwhelm sewers. The Esplanade is now open around the clock, but city parks officials are discussing whether to shut it down from midnight to 5 a.m. for maintenance and to ease security patrols.

• • •

THE HEADLINE: 'Authorities say little about UP student's murder,' June 5

WHAT HAPPENED: Kate Johnson, 21, a senior at the University of Portland, was found dead in her Mehling Hall dorm room at the Catholic university in North Portland.

THE UPDATE: No one has been arrested, police have no suspects and few details have been released. Police and school officials have kept a tight lid on information, angering some students who want to know what's going on. 'We've tried to do follow-up stories, but the school really won't give us information,' says Kacie White, editor-in-chief of the student newspaper, The Beacon. 'We've had a lot of trouble.' In early December, a priest confirmed that he was living in Mehling Hall during the summer and coincidentally left the country to attend a conference seven hours before the body was found. He's been cleared of suspicion, but a university administrator at the time concealed his presence in the dorm. Police are reviewing a lot of information, including security logs for the dorm.

• • •

THE HEADLINE: 'Water billing problems no surprise,' June 19

WHAT HAPPENED: The Tribune reported that an accounting firm memo had identified serious problems with the city water bureau's new computerized billing system before the system was activated in February 2000. By June, thousands of customers still had not received bills, and the City Council had to raise water rates by about 1 percent to cover anticipated losses.

THE UPDATE: By the end of the year, the city had spent about $10 million on a computer system that did not work as well as the one it had replaced. Approximately 8,000 customers still have not been billed, and unpaid accounts stand at more than $30 million. A task force and consulting firm enlisted to evaluate the system concluded that the system will never do what it promised and will be out of date within a few years. A replacement system, if the city decides one is needed, could cost another $10 million or more.

• • •

THE HEADLINE: 'Things are all shook up at Church of Elvis,' July 17

WHAT HAPPENED: The 24-Hour Church of Elvis hit financial hard times and closed its doors.

UPDATE: 'Twas a blue, blue Christmas for die-hard church fans. The city's most infamous landmark closed in mid-November after falling $10,000 behind in rent. For the last decade, the church offered visitors an outlandish sanctuary where they could exchange wedding vows before a 'celebrity spokesmodel' almost any time of the day and tour Elvis paraphernalia, kitschy velvet paintings, the World's Cheapest Psychic and a tortilla chip bearing a curious likeness to the King.

Owner Stephanie Pierce saw her Church of Elvis T-shirts become fashion icons around the world, but she suffered through hard times, moving twice and surviving eviction threats. Now her church is gone with no apparent plan to reopen.

• • •

THE HEADLINE: 'Jackson faces criticism over comments,' July 24

WHAT HAPPENED: Community members called for Portland school board member Derry Jackson to resign after The Oregonian quoted him as saying he sees 'Jews running everything' on the school board and in Portland. 'Today they run the country,' the paper quoted Jackson as saying.

THE UPDATE: Jackson made two attempts at apologizing for what a range of Jewish leaders, school activists and others considered anti-Semitic remarks. Neither apology satisfied many of the critics. But Jackson continues to serve on the board and has made no more public statements about the controversy.

• • •

THE HEADLINE: 'Airport MAX line opens,' Sept. 11

WHAT HAPPENED: The opening of the Red Line, the Airport MAX connection, marks a broad expansion of rail around Portland.

THE UPDATE: It wasn't just Airport MAX. Last year also saw the debut of the downtown Portland Streetcar and groundbreaking for the new 5.8-mile Interstate MAX light rail scheduled to open in 2004. The new 5.5-mile stretch between Gateway and the airport now averages 3,400 weekday riders, helping push ridership on the entire MAX system to 84,200 a day in October. Cascade Station, the planned business and commercial development along the line near the airport, hasn't been as popular. No leases have been signed for any space there.

• • •

THE HEADLINE: 'Portland sends its best,' Sept. 18

WHAT HAPPENED: The Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, D.C., galvanized Portland volunteers, including Red Cross workers, firefighters and Northwest Medical Teams who made the trip to New York.

THE UPDATE: The firefighters, the Red Cross workers and the medical team were among thousands of volunteers who went to New York. A few weeks later, Portland merchants sponsored what they called the Flight for Freedom, a well-attended October shopping trip to boost the New York City economy. Thousands of Portland well-wishers signed a banner in Pioneer Courthouse Square paying tribute to New York police and firefighters. In October, it was put on display outside a fire station in Far Rockaway, N.Y., across Jamaica Bay from John F. Kennedy International Airport.

• • •

THE HEADLINE: 'Suitors hope to cash in on PFE fallout,' Oct. 5

WHAT HAPPENED: Portland Family Entertainment, the operator of PGE Park for the city, dismissed Marshall Glickman and Mark Gardiner from the group's helm after the operation lost $7 million in its first year.

THE UPDATE: The limited partners, led by area business leaders Peter Stott and Scott Thomason, hired the nationally renowned Goldklang Group to run PFE. The group immediately laid off several PFE workers and reorganized the staff. Mike Veeck, son of the late colorful baseball owner Bill Veeck, is Goldklang's president.

• • •

THE HEADLINE: 'Fujitsu's exit premature?' Dec. 4

WHAT HAPPENED: The Fujitsu Microelectronics plant in Gresham closed, laying off 670 workers, reflecting a severe downturn in the Oregon economy in 2001.

THE UPDATE: The Fujitsu plant closure was only one slice of the 2001 economic problems. The high-tech industry that led the Oregon economy the last decade also led its descent into recession and contributed to an unemployment rate that reached 7.4 percent in December, the highest in the country. Job losses in high-tech and other industries contributed to a $710 million state budget deficit, the worst in two decades. State lawmakers will address the deficit Ñ and may make significant cuts to education and social services throughout the state Ñ in a special session expected in February. 'There's no question Oregon is very weak,' says John Mitchell, a regional economist for U.S. Bancorp.