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Bill Naito's dream gets closer to reality

Portland City Council OKs outlines of major Post Office deal.

TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO - Portland's City Council has approved a preliminary plan for the city to buy the U.S. Postal Service property on Northwest Hoyt Street, find a new home for it with city funds, then redevelop the site.More than two decades ago, Portland developer Bill Naito would talk to anyone who’d listen — city officials, reporters, and others — about why the city should relocate the sprawling mail distribution complex in Northwest Portland so the site could be redeveloped.

Now Naito’s dream is getting closer to reality.

On Thursday the Portland City Council approved the outlines of a plan for the city to buy the U.S. Postal Service property on Northwest Hoyt Street, find a new home for it with city funds, then redevelop the site for offices, parks, public plazas and housing, including affordable apartments. The council also granted preliminary approval to an interim financing plan so the Portland Development Commission can afford to pay some $80 million to buy the 14-acre regional mail facility and relocate it elsewhere. (Naito suggested it move near the airport, since much of the mail now goes by plane.)

The financing arrangement, which requires final approval from the City Council next week, will enable the PDC to move negotiations with the Postal Service to the next stage.

This is a “once in a generation opportunity,” PDC Executive Director Patrick Quinton told the City Council.

Mark Edlen, one of Portland’s top developers and now a member of the PDC board, predicted the city could eventually sell the Postal Service property for more than it has agreed to pay for it, an estimated $135 million to $177 million.

Any reluctance shown by city commissioners in a work session several weeks ago seems to have vanished, especially after Commissioner Dan Saltzman prodded the PDC to put $20 million more into the project for affordable housing.

“It’s been of those elusive dreams of this City Council and the PDC to finally get ahold of the Post Office site,” Saltzman said.

Now Portland’s hot real estate market, a willing seller, and active pursuit of the project by Mayor Charlie Hales is making that dream come to fruition, Saltzman said.

Commissioner Nick Fish even suggested the PDC hold onto an ownership stake in the property, and use that to help fund the urban renewal agency in the future, to supplement its dwindling tax-increment financing, its primary funding source.

The framework plan includes the 14-acre Postal Service site on Northwest Hoyt Street and 24 acres of surrounding land, including Union Station, the Greyhound Bus terminal, the Broadway Bridge and other PDC-owned parcels.

A team of visionary architects devised a preliminary plan that includes a highrise rivaling the U.S. Bank Tower in height, expansion of the North Park Blocks, a civic plaza next to Union Station and other features.

Those are not written in stone, but the plan showed that the city could provide space for several thousand new jobs and several thousand new residents there.

Growth is coming to Portland, Hales said, and the Postal Service property will enable the city to help shape some of that growth. The site may be the largest undeveloped property in any central city in the U.S. right now, he boasted.

“This is a great opportunity to go where we want to go in the city,” Hales said.

Naito, who helped preserve many Old Town historic buildings from the wrecking ball, is long gone, though Portland honored by naming a major downtown parkway after him. But it’s safe to say he would be proud.

(Reporter Steve Law was one of the people that Naito spoke to about his dream back in the 1990s, when Law was a real estate reporter for the Portland Business Journal.)