Alliance rolls with parking punches
Contract loss could widen split between city, business group
Key members of the Portland Business Alliance say they're bowed, but not beaten, after losing the SmartPark garage management contract the group had held for 21 years.
Some members even argue that the alliance, Portland's most powerful lobbying unit, can now flaunt a stronger bargaining position during future city dealings.
'I'd proposed last summer that we really stop and consider whether we wanted to do this (garage-management) business because the primary purpose of the business alliance is not to be an operating entity but to be a business advocacy group,' said George Passadore, the Wells Fargo Northwest region president who heads the alliance's board of directors.
'I saw these kinds of activities as getting in the way of our real purpose: to be the eyes, ears and voice for business in metropolitan Portland.'
Loss of the contract could push the strained city-alliance relationship to the point of outright rupture.
'I don't know if it's a fractious relationship, but what sometimes happens is that there's a difference of opinions on what's best for the city,' said Jim Jeddeloh, an alliance board member and president of the Portland-based accounting firm Perkins & Company. 'We want what's best for downtown viability and quality of life. And to the extent where there are differences of opinions, that's where we come from.'
The question of city-alliance relations arose after city commissioners voted unanimously to award the SmartPark management contract to a group assembled by Star Park LLC.
Alliance members immediately questioned whether the new management team is up to the task. One alliance board member said Star Park traditionally objects to its Business Improvement District fees, which fund security and maintenance in downtown's 212-block Clean and Safe Services District.
The alliance also has expressed concern that Star Park is allotting $137,000 less annually for security services than the alliance had offered in its SmartPark contract bid.
'Adequate and quality security presence is absolutely necessary in order to secure the real and perceived safety of individuals utilizing the downtown and their personal property housed within the garages,' wrote Franklin 'Kim' Kimbrough, the alliance's chief executive, in a May 22 memo to the city's Bureau of General Services.
The new managers also are catching flak from the Jobs for Justice group, which, at Thursday's city council meeting, protested the potential loss of eight janitorial jobs.
For its part, the alliance already has laid off six workers, including Christopher Finks, the alliance's vice president for marketing, and spokesman John Czarobski.
No alliance representatives spoke during a pre-vote public hearing Thursday. The contract calls for the city to pay Star Park $4.35 million over five years for janitorial, management and security services for six SmartPark garages. The new contract marks a savings to the city of $400,000.
All four of the city's commissioners told the Tribune earlier this month they would support the contract, which the city's Bureau of General Services hammered out with Star Park this week.
The strong degree of commission support, though, surprised many. The alliance had supported Commissioner Randy Leonard in his November election victory over Multnomah County Commissioner Serena Cruz. And Commissioner James Francesconi recently has taken pro-alliance positions on several issues, including the council's recent rejection of an antiwar resolution.
But both commissioners praised the Star Park proposal because it includes participation from subcontractors with black, Asian and Hispanic interests. A committee enlisted by the city to study potential contracts examined five factors: experience of organization, staff, cost, diversity and references.
'You didn't just win this contract, you're serving as a model for the entire country,' Leonard told Star Park representatives.
This summer, the city also will bid out a component of the parking contract that supplies marketing for all downtown businesses. The business alliance, under the contract, had been paid $645,000 annually to promote downtown services.
The garage contract had generated $3 million for the alliance annually. Most of the money was earmarked for SmartPark garage operations, group representatives said last week.
Alliance leaders do not see loss of the contract as a slap at Kimbrough, who has raised hackles among city officials for his criticism of the city's attitude toward business.
'The garage contract was decided by a commission of citizens from all walks of life appointed by the mayor to evaluate the proposals,' Passadore said. 'I believe we received a fair evaluation.'
Greg Goodman, an alliance board member whose family owns City Center Parking, expects few changes from the contract loss.
'I think it'll be business as usual: The alliance will still be very active in policy and advocacy issues; it just won't be running the garages,' he said.
Still, Goodman, who has worked well with city leaders on several downtown development projects, acknowledged that 'it's easier to work with people toward a common goal than fight with them. Everyone has the same endgame: We want a prosperous city.'