Change may aid Old Town cleanup, but worries arise over cost, response times
The Portland Fire Bureau says it's willing to move its Southwest Ash Street headquarters and high-rise rescue team to make way for a key piece in the Portland Development Commission's plan for a 40-block residential neighborhood.
The trick, however, is finding a new station site that doesn't result in slower response times for firefighters and emergency medical personnel as they race to calls spanning from downtown Portland high-rises to Southeast 23rd Avenue homes. Station 1 personnel are specially trained to handle rescues at any of the city's 200 high-rise (75 feet or higher) buildings.
One list of alternative station sites already has been abandoned, and PDC staff has a second list of four sites between the Morrison and Burnside bridges. Two of the sites are located along West Burnside Street between Southwest Third and Fifth avenues; two are between Northwest Couch and Davis streets between Naito Parkway and Second Avenue.
Fire Chief Ed Wilson must approve one of them, and city Commissioner Erik Sten, who opposes relocation of the fire station, also must sign off on the move as commissioner of the fire bureau.
'We told PDC if they could find a site that could meet our operational needs, under parameters we discussed, we'd move,' said John Klum, the fire department's deputy chief of logistics. The department already was prepared to remodel its earthquake-sensitive station when the PDC request was made.
The PDC wants to construct 168 market-rate, condominium units in place of Station 1, facing the Willamette River. The site, across from Skidmore Fountain at 55 S.W. Ash St., is considered a critical piece to the massive redevelopment project in crime-ridden Old Town.
Although the 52-year-old fire station anchors the north end of Old Town, the PDC believes that by replacing it with residential units the resulting increase in pedestrian traffic would drive out the drug activity that now plagues the area day and night.
Replacing the fire station 'could tip the activity in the right direction,' said PDC project manager Amy Miller Dowell, 'and spark private development. This is the start of the new residential neighborhood and vision for Naito Parkway. It depends a little bit on the economy, but we are wanting to move ahead. '
Besides the fire station site, PDC plans two other condominium-apartment projects to kick off the redevelopment effort: a 278-unit condo development to replace a run-down parking garage at Southwest Third Avenue and Oak Street, as well as a development on three-quarters of a block at Southwest Stark Street and Naito Parkway Ñ owned by the Goodman family, which operates City Center Parking and numerous other parking entities.
Building fix needed
Sten said he opposes the move because a good site hasn't been found and because of the bureau's estimate that it will cost an additional $10 million to move the station Ñ though PDC officials say the relocation costs would be closer to $6.1 million. The bureau is currently negotiating a price with PDC.
'At this point I don't think it's realistic and I haven't seen alternate sites that would provide sufficient response times,' Sten said. 'I don't think we can afford it right now. Spending that kind of money to move a fire station from a perfectly good site doesn't make sense.'
Sten prefers combining the fire station with condominiums and soundproofing the building to reduce the noise of sirens.
Developer John Beardsley, a member of the waterfront redevelopment committee, said such a mixed-use development wouldn't work.
'The needs of the residents generally take in lower elements of housing structure, which would be occupied by fire equipment,' he said. 'They're reasonably incompatible.'
He said it makes sense to move the station now so 'there's a lot less money spent and upheaval,' referring to the cost of renovating the station and the expense of moving it again later.
The fire bureau already had set aside $11.2 million to renovate its earthquake-sensitive Ash Street headquarters as well as pay for a temporary relocation during construction. A 1997 seismic study by Shannon & Wilson Inc., a private engineering firm, recommended a $250,000 upgrade of the building's foundation as well as structural renovations.
'We were supposed to be out of the building by Jan. 1 for the project,' Klum said. 'For every year they delay it, it's another 3.5 percent. We'd like to start as soon as possible.'
Even now, it will take a year to obtain a building permit for a new station and another year to build it.
Fire officials have been in a holding pattern since Dec. 18, when PDC Executive Director Don Mazziotti asked Sten not to pursue renovation plans at the station until the waterfront redevelopment plan was completed.
First seven sites rejected
A report on the waterfront project will be presented at PDC's April 16 meeting, along with two resolutions. The first would authorize Mazziotti to enter into a memorandum of understanding with the fire bureau on potential sites.
The second item is an agreement with the Portland Office of Transportation to add parking on the west side of Naito Parkway and to make other street improvements.
Two weeks ago, PDC rejected an earlier list of seven sites for a new fire station headquarters, including a building and parking lot owned by the H. Naito Corp. at 60 N.W. Davis St; a surface parking lot also owned by Naito at 115 N.W. First Ave.; a triangular piece of property owned by PDC between Third Avenue and the Steel Bridge offramps at 510 N.W. Third Ave.; a parking lot owned by Goldsmith Co. at 125 N.W. Fourth Ave.; and an existing building and parking lot owned by Alaskan Copper & Brass Co. at 320 N.W. Hoyt St.
Another proposed site, a surface parking lot owned by the Goodman family at 409 N.W. Glisan St., was rejected by the fire department in a letter to PDC.