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City agrees to Zidell deal on South Waterfront

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As City Commissioner Nick Fish describes it, Portland' s six years of negotiations over the Zidell family’s South Waterfront development were like a high school romance: on again, off again, often sidetracked by new issues and new circumstances.

Well now the two sides are engaged to be married.

The City Council unanimously approved a long-term development agreement with the Zidells on Wednesday. That commits the city to spend tens of millions of dollars on a new road, Willamette riverfront greenway, storm drainage and affordable housing. In exchange, the Zidell family’s ZRZ Realty agreed to erect a new neighborhood valued at more than $210 million, hosting up to 1,000 condos and apartments and 2,500 jobs on a 30-acre site due north of the Ross Island Bridge.

This is a part of town where the city has long held “big hopes and dreams,” and it now looks like those will come true, said Mayor Charlie Hales.

Hales said there are only six areas in North America where cities have had a chance to create entirely new close-in neighborhoods from scratch. Those include two in Vancouver, B.C., one in San Francisco and one in New York. The other two: Portland’s Pearl District and now the South Waterfront area.

Fish hailed the provisions for affordable housing that were hammered out in recent months to fulfill the city’s longstanding commitment to provide a mix of income groups in the South Waterfront area. The city recently sought bids to build at least 200 units on a site in the RiverPlace area, and the deal with the Zidells calls for the family to sell the city another site for at least 200 more affordable apartment units.

“That means 400 families that cannot afford to live in our city can have a choice and a chance to live in a very desirable neighborhood,” Fish said.

Commissioner Amanda Fritz said the South Waterfront hasn’t yet turned out as city officials hoped, as it attracted more housing than expected and fewer jobs. But now the Knight Cancer Research Institute plans to erect a new complex there, aided by $4 million the city agreed to deploy yesterday to extend an access road called Bond Street. Bond also will be extended to the Zidell property to open that up.

As Zidell invests, that will raise property values that in turn will give the money urban renewal funds to build the greenway from the Marquam Bridge to the Ross Island Bridge. Urban renewal funds also will pay for the affordable housing project and give Portland Parks & Recreation $5 million to buy a site from the Zidells for a future park. Since the park likely will cost lots more than that, Fritz said the bureau, under her direction, might not choose to proceed with the park, depending on available funds.

Fritz said the Zidell development agreement will be a “make or break” deal that will determine if the area lives up to the potential city leaders originally saw in the area.

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@SteveLawTrib