The University of Oregon is not the 'University of Eugene.' The words 'Made in Oregon' are not a sacred part of Portland's history.
And city Commissioner Randy Leonard is being neither fiscally responsible nor publicly respectful when he threatens to use the power of eminent domain to take over an iconic sign at the west end of the Burnside Bridge.
At press time on Wednesday, the Portland City Council was discussing Leonard's ludicrous proposal that the city - in the middle of a recession - exercise its condemnation powers and spend $500,000 of the public's money to purchase the historic White Stag sign. We hope city commissioners have the good sense to reject this course of action when the topic returns to the council's agenda next week.
Leonard is suggesting such extraordinary measures because he is offended that the University of Oregon, which leases the White Stag building beneath the sign, would have the audacity to do what previous tenants of the structure have done: place its name on the sign above.
Longtime residents of Portland have come to treasure the neon sign that started out as an advertisement for White Satin Sugar in 1940 and then for years carried the name of 'White Stag.' It was only in 1996 that the retailer Made in Oregon took over sponsorship of the sign and received permission to alter the lettering to its current form.
But with the arrival of the University of Oregon into the White Stag building, the university wants to erase 'Made in Oregon' and replace it with 'University of Oregon.'
Leonard and others protest that this change will diminish the landmark value of the sign - which is an empty argument, considering the number of times it already has been altered. But they further contend that having a University of Oregon sign so prominently displayed in the city's landscape will be insulting to Portland State University. On his Internet blog, Leonard makes the following outrageous statement:
'University of Oregon President Dave Frohnmayer's efforts to change the sign to 'University of Oregon' would confiscate a Portland community asset and exchange it for the exclusive benefit of the Eugene-based university.'
Eugene-based university? Isn't it the University of OREGON? And meanwhile, are not the University of Oregon, Oregon State University and numerous private colleges and universities - in addition to Portland State - making significant local investments to bring additional educational opportunities to Portland?
We agree with Commissioner Dan Saltzman, who labeled the debate 'absurd' in an article on the Tribune's Web site Tuesday morning. The Portland council should back away from this matter. And the city's Historical Landmark Commission should give the University of Oregon permission to alter the sign.
Portland is big enough to accommodate more than one public university - and the White Stag sign is resilient enough to remain a beloved icon no matter whose message it happens to proclaim at any particular time.