Parking tycoon Greg Goodman drives city to perfection Ñ his way
Parking magnate Greg Goodman has been a Portland business fixture for years, but his actions as the frontman for a wintertime ice rink proposed for Pioneer Courthouse Square have taken him into the civic spotlight.
It hasn't been a smooth ride. In the past few months, the president of Parking Management Co. has discovered that he has more than just a few critics out there, many of whom don't share his vision for Portland, his tactics or his cozy ties with city leaders.
However, while Goodman is not really comfortable with criticism, he won't let it stop him from pursuing his civic and business goals.
Goodman envisions a vibrant, active downtown Ñ where buildings combine retail space and housing atop parking lots Ñ retaining and attracting new business and centered on a busy Pioneer Courthouse Square, anchored by the ice rink four months of the year.
It's the ice rink that's brought his critics forward most publicly.
'Any time you propose to change a prominent public space like that you have to open yourself to all kinds of flak. He may have underestimated this,' says Portland
Development Commission Chairman John Russell, who praises Goodman's 'enormous energy' and dedication to causes he cares deeply about.
Goodman says he can take the knocks from those who say he personally benefits from his civic involvement in the square and other causes. He does it, he says, out of a love for Portland.
'If you're passionate about something you try to get it and move forward on it and you will succeed or you won't succeed,' he says.
'It's very easy to do nothing and it's very easy to sit and bitch about everything. I think people have an obligation to be productive in the community. One thing I will never do is stick my finger in the air to see which way the wind is blowing. That's a cop-out, and I'm not going to do that.'
Much at stake
If the ice rink wins public approval, Goodman will gain more visitors to the city during the slow winter season Ñ visitors who are likely to park their cars in many of the 160 parking lots his family owns or manages. He also will gain high marks for his fund-raising capabilities and lobbying for downtown businesses when the economy is lagging.
'He's always had a vision for the downtown,' says Rick Williams, executive director of the Lloyd District Transportation Management Association. 'He's been in the business a long time and knows what he's doing. The more visions for downtown, the better.'
But will others buy his vision?
It's well known that the Goodman family wields influence through its legal and civic connections to protect its majority ownership of downtown parking. Greg Goodman denies he has a special relationship with any of the city's five commissioners, or with the mayor's chief of staff, Sam Adams, a sometime lunch partner.
Though Goodman and his family have donated $18,000 to Commissioners Erik Sten and Dan Saltzman, former Commissioner Charlie Hales and others over the past five years, he says he expects nothing in return.
'I give money. And as I said before, I support people's passion,' Goodman says.
He says he has never asked for a special favor in exchange for campaign support, and rarely gives free parking to anyone other than Pioneer Courthouse Square employees.
He will, however, be active in lobbying for something he believes is good for the West End, or another part of the city. 'I do not call a City Council member and say, 'I need you to help me on this.' I wouldn't even think to do it. You can accomplish enough being right.'
Goodman sits with Adams on the mayor's task force to reform the business income tax; he's also a member of a PDC committee to improve Old Town and its connection to the waterfront, where his family owns property. His wife is Susan Schnitzer, the daughter of Schnitzer Steel heir Manuel Schnitzer and a member of the Portland dynasty with whom Goodman is planning to build downtown buildings.
The volunteer posts are 'a thankless job,' Russell says. 'Despite potential criticism of his company, it's not the case' that Goodman benefits from any of it.
Behind the wheel
Charges of being the beneficiary of favoritism continue to dog Goodman, particularly regarding several major contracts.
His City Center Parking, for instance, manages the contract for the city's six Smart Park garages in partnership with the Portland Business Alliance. Goodman is a board member of PBA and the former Association for Portland Progress board.
The city's Bureau of General Services will consider a one-year extension of the Goodmans' contract in August. The agency also is preparing to issue a request for proposals for a garage management contract.
Star Park competitor Barry Schlesinger said he plans to bid for the contract.
City Center nabbed a 10-year parking contract for the Rose Garden garage at the same time that Goodman's friend Marshall Glickman was vice president of marketing for the Portland Trail Blazers. Star Park Chief Executive Virgil Ovall, then parking manager of PacifiCorp subsidiary Pacific Development, says it was clear from the start that the contract was intended for Goodman.
'I can see where people think there's a conflict, but it's been tested,' Williams, of the Lloyd District transportation association, says about the Smart Park contract. City Center 'is very competitive and good at what it does. But (when) you're sitting on the board and getting the contract, does it look bad? Yeah.'
Asked about the contracts, Goodman furiously denies they are an inside deal. He points out that all major contracts are awarded through a competitive bidding process that is closely monitored.
'Ace, Diamond, others competed,' he says. 'We bid against national competition. That's a crock of you-know-what. We were lowest-cost provider. Anybody who says that is just taking potshots.'
His competitors also accuse Goodman of helping draft a plan for the city's West End that, unlike any other city district, allows him to keep all his parking spaces if a lot is redeveloped. Landowners elsewhere in the city must put those parking spaces in a pool for any local developer to draw from.
'At no time did Greg Goodman advocate for Greg Goodman,' he responds to the accusation. 'That's a crock of crap.'
Powell's Books owner Michael Powell, also a member of the West End Committee, backs him up.
'He takes a significant amount of heat for doing these things through the company,' Powell says. 'Everybody says no one loves a parking garage operator, and on some level wants to park for nothing. He shines through it.'
Star Park's Schlesinger Ñ Goodman's chief competitor Ñ says the Portland Business Alliance contract only skims the surface of Goodman tactics. The feud between the two families flared last week when Goodman's City Center Parking threatened legal action against a former lot attendant and night supervisor, Mustafa Babiker.
Babiker, a Sudanese immigrant earning $9 an hour, quit City Center and went to work for Star Park, which owns 31 lots to the Goodmans' 160. Attorney Jeffrey Nudelman, representing the Goodmans, sent a letter alleging that Babiker had violated a confidentiality and no-compete clause. City Center requires its employees to sign a two-page employment agreement that they will not work for competitors for at least three years after their departure.
'We protect our company information,' Goodman says. 'They are not supposed to share that with outside competitors.'
An incensed Schlesinger fires back: 'They're always trying to intimidate our employees. It's one thing to do it to a competitor, but to do it to an immigrant, that's reprehensible. It's like asking a McDonald's server not to go to work for Burger King for three years.'
Only game in town
The Goodman empire started in 1955 with six lots bought by Wally Goodman, Greg's grandfather. When he died, in 1965, son Doug Goodman took over and began collecting more property until amassing the 160 lots he owns or manages.
Doug Goodman remains involved in the real estate end of the company, which is overseen by Chris Kopca, a former project manager for the PDC and a member of the city's Design Review Commission. Sources estimated the company revenue at $40 million to $45 million a year.
The family also owns 50 buildings and lots, including the Kress Building, Pioneer Park Building, ODS Tower, Public Service Building, the Crown Plaza and Union Bank of California. Its ownership is tucked into at least eight limited partnerships and companies, including Goodman Generations LLC, UBCT Partnership and Sky Investments Inc.
Doug Goodman's other son, Mark, oversees parking operations while Greg runs the contracts and works with landlords.
The brothers started out washing and parking cars. Greg, who graduated from Lake Oswego High School and briefly attended Central Oregon Community College in Bend, worked up to supervisor. He took over as general manager when he was still in his 20s.
One of his regrets, he says, is 'starting work so early. There's a real benefit to the college experience.'
The Goodmans employ 400 and operate under City Center, PMC, U-Park and Smart Park names.
Oldtimers like to think that a city-imposed parking cap Ñ lifted in 1996 after 20 years Ñ cemented the Goodmans' monopoly over downtown parking. It was the Goodmans, however, who worked to get rid of it, says the Lloyd District's Williams.
When Star Park emerged on the parking scene just as the lid was eliminated, the Goodmans sued to block Star Park's construction of a 462-car garage. The City Council unanimously backed the Schlesinger garage.
'At that time, he was the only game in town,' Williams says. 'It was hard for others to compete. Now Star Park is downtown; Ace is at the airport. They control the majority of parking lots, but since Star Park came into the market it's gotten more competitive. They've put an option on the table.'
Now, if a building owner changes parking management companies, it indicates that City Center or Star Park weren't competitive enough in their bids, Williams says. That was the case at 200 Market, where Russell hired Ashforth Pacific to replace City Center.
'I've seen where City Center is put out as manager, then a year later they come back,' Williams says. 'A year later they may be put out again. Both are extremely qualified.'
With a current oversupply of parking spaces, both City Center and Star Park are dropping prices to as low as $5.95 a day.
Goodman admits business is off. 'I don't want in any way to convey the Goodmans are in financial trouble. It couldn't be farther from the truth. But our parking business is off significantly.'
Developer in the wings
The PDC's Russell says he looks forward to the day when the Goodmans start converting their parking lots to buildings.
'Parking lots constitute blight. The earlier those properties are developed the better off we'll all be,' Russell says. 'Cars parked on asphalt lots don't make a great city.'
Doug Goodman's renovation of the Public Service Building, at 920 S.W. Sixth Ave., is one of several signs 'they are making a transition from owner of vacant land to sophisticated developer,' Russell says.
In an era when corporations are leaving Portland, business leaders laud Greg Goodman for making an effort.
'There's been the Ira Kellers and all those folks who have done a lot for the city, but with the exit of lots of corporations I just can't think of someone else who loves the city,' says Ron Beltz, vice president of the property developer and management firm Louis Dreyfus Co. 'I don't see him as a wheeler-dealer, he just enjoys people.'
Michael Powell, who served with Goodman on the West End Committee, calls Goodman 'a pussycat' who loves following his children's sports careers. Despite a bad back, Goodman also ran the New York, Chicago and Portland marathons last year.
'It would be easy in his position with all the parking and property investment interests not to play an active role in civic interests,' Powell says.
Asked if he would run for office, Goodman says the answer is 'more than likely no.'
'I love what I'm doing,' he says.