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Prime acreage is ripe for ideas

Report delivers facts on the harborfront, forecast for job growth

Nearly 735 acres of industrial land Ñ 365 acres of it in the Port of Portland's Rivergate development ÑÊis up for grabs on the city's north harborfront.

Included are 113 acres optioned by Vestas American Wind Technology Inc., the world's largest builder of wind turbines, which last summer said its plans for siting its North American headquarters at Rivergate were on hold. Vestas has since given up its option on the land, however, suggesting it may have discarded altogether any idea of building in Portland.

Another 750 acres Ñ held in reserve by the port on West Hayden Island Ñ could be redeveloped depending on the economy and corporate demand, according to the first-ever Portland Harbor Industrial Lands Study, released last week.

But you won't likely see a riverfront hotel or kitschy restaurant on this stretch of the riverfront, which is populated by 940 maritime and heavy manufacturers.

Despite intense interest from commercial and residential developers, companies surveyed in the study area, such as Esco Corp., Wacker Siltronic Corp. and Freightliner LLC, want housing and commercial businesses to continue to be excluded from the industrial sanctuary.

Job growth may result

One out of eight workers in Portland's labor force, or some 39,200 people, are employed in the north waterfront area, a major West Coast center for auto imports, grain and dry bulk exports, and petroleum terminals.

The 163-page study, jointly sponsored by the Portland Development Commission, Port of Portland and the city's planning bureau, was launched in February 2002 by city Planning Director Gil Kelley.

It looks at reuse of waterfront land north of the Steel Bridge to St. Johns and provides an encyclopedic survey of Portland's harborfront and its workers.

Its findings will be used to draft policy on future river use and redevelopment.

The shortage of land for industrial development in the region Ñ long a contentious issue for Metro, county and city leaders Ñ has raised the premium on existing industrial sites.

Industrial job growth in Portland, particularly in wholesale trade, transportation and electronics, is expected to outpace the national average, according to a Metro and Oregon Office of Economic Analysis report.

The harbor area, with its 5,532 acres of industrial land, however contaminated much of it may be by industrial pollutants, has been thrust into the spotlight and could capture some of that job growth.

'We've known all along that there isn't a lot of shovel-ready land in the harbor,' said PDC Economic Development Manager Elissa Gertler. 'We understand the challenges of taking land that is constrained. Some will require long-term solutions like Superfund. But you can't re-create industrial land.

'We have to figure out how to bring new tools to the table to attract and retain businesses,' she said.

Available industrial sites in the harbor area range from 22 acres at the Terminal 6 site abutting the Hyundai auto facility to 30 acres on North Channel Avenue adjacent to the shipyard. Port officials also proposed the 750-acre West Hayden Island site for industrial use, an idea that remains stalled.

The greatest demand for riverfront land comes from auto importers, which account for 19 percent of the marine cargo in Portland. The pace of gains in rail freight tonnage shipped in and out of Portland is projected to double over the next 10 years, largely because of expected increases in grain and auto shipments.

To accommodate that growth, Burlington Northern and Union Pacific have been searching for several hundred acres for intermodal rail yards, possibly outside the city.

City stands accused

Many of the 80 company leaders interviewed for the harbor study predicted that manufacturers will downsize or close their Portland operations as the shift to transportation-dependent firms evolves.

There was a growing perception, the study found, that Portland is a high-cost place to do business. The reasons cited were taxes and utility and environmental compliance costs that are said to be out of line with other metro regions.

The city's business tax reform plan, which will increase the tax burden on manufacturers with large payrolls, disproportionately affects business in the harbor area.

A letter William Furman, president and chief executive officer of Greenbrier Cos., dispatched last month to Mayor Vera Katz reflected the growing discontent.

Greenbrier's Gunderson Inc. subsidiary operates a plant in the harbor area that builds rail cars and barges and employs 1,100 people. Furman suggested that the tax measure amounted to the last straw.

'Why would you want to stay somewhere you're not wanted?' Furman wrote.

No one identified plans to relocate in the short term, said Steve Kountz, a senior planner in the planning bureau, although representatives of several unidentified firms questioned whether they would make long-term investments in Portland.

'Harbor businesses are historic, long-term businesses that have made a significant contribution over time,' Gertler said. 'As we talk about creative services and other glamorous professions, they may feel we are ignoring the traditional industrial. We have to focus on keeping these businesses happy.'

Contact Kristina Brenneman at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..