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Council split, but approves Living Building ownership

Arrangement goes to Oregon Legislature on 3-to-2 vote

Portland's City Council barely approved moving forward with planning on the Oregon Sustainability Center on Wednesday, voting by a 3-2 to enter into an ownership agreement with the Oregon University System on the so-called Living Building to be constructed on the edge of the Portland State University campus.

Mayor Sam Adams called the estimated $61.7 million project important for the city to maintain its position on the cutting edge of sustainable development. He was joined by commissioners Randy Leonard and Dan Saltzman in supporting the arrangement, which is scheduled to be submitted Thursday to the Legislature's Joint Committee on Ways and Means.

Commissioners Nick Fish and Amanda Fritz voted against the proposal, however. Both expressed concerned about the overall financing for the project, which they said appeared shaky.

'This is supposed to be sustainable project but the financing doesn't look sustainable to me,' said Fish.

Even if the Ways and Means Committee approve the ownership arrangement, the council must vote to again to approve its construction when more details are known. Construction is proposed to start in 2012.

A step beyond even LEEDS certification, the sustainability center is designed to generate as much power and harvest as much water as it uses. The estimated cost is 15 percent to 20 percent higher than comparable institutional buildings like the Port of Portland's new headquarters at Portland International Airport.

Partly because of the higher cost, the 2011 Legislature balked at authorizing bonds for the project until the city and the Oregon University System showed they would be fully leased - including private sector tenants willing to pay the higher cost.

In a statement announcing the vote, Adams promised that 90 percent of available office space will have lease commitments prior to construction, with the intent that 100 percent of the office and retail space will be leased upon project completion. Umpqua Bank has agreed to open a branch in the building, which will be located at Southwest Fourth Avenue and Montgomery Street.

Other recent developments include the completion of schematic design in early May, the closure of a $3 million project budget gap through fund raising and value engineering, and the selection of Sanyo/Inspec as the solar provider.

The project is led by the Oregon University System, the Portland Development Commission, the city of Portland Bureau of Planning and Sustainability and an assortment of for-profit and non-for-profit partners in the sustainability and social equity sectors.