In a blow to the Portland Business Alliance, the city will enter negotiations to award a coveted parking contract to upstart Star Park to operate the city's Smart Park garages.

The alliance has operated the six garages since 1982, and its current contract extends to June 30. A new deal would raise the possibility that Star Park and bitter rival City Center Parking would operate the Smart Park garages together. City Center would continue to hold the contract for attendant services at Smart Park, city officials said.

'I'm just excited to get the opportunity,' said Star Park President Barry Schlesinger. 'And it sends the message that Portland is open for business and it's not going to be a wired deal.'

City Center President Greg Goodman said the decision has little to do with his company's operation of the garages. 'Who they (the garage managers) are has no bearing on what we do.'

The city's Bureau of General Services announced its intent to award the contract to Star Park on Tuesday, after a seven-person panel appointed by the City Council reviewed both proposals.

Alliance spokesman John Czarobski said they won't consider it final until the council votes on the contract. The parking contract makes up about 30 percent of the alliance's budget, he said.

'It's premature to say if it would affect our budget or cause layoffs,' he said. 'We hope City Council would look at what is in the best interests of downtown.'

The council can either accept the recommendation or make its own, possibly as early as its May 21 meeting.

'It was very close, it really was,' said Ron Bargeman, the city's general services director. 'It was just a few points that separated both proposals.'

Star Park proposed operating the garages at a cost of $6.4 million over five years. Its contract would be in partnership with an alliance of local minority chambers of commerce, including the African American, Hispanic Metropolitan and Philippine American. The alliance proposed a $6.5 million budget over five years for the Smart Park garages.

The two companies were rated on five factors, including experience of organization, staff, cost, diversity and references.

Bargeman doesn't expect a problem between Star Park's selection and City Center's ongoing contract to oversee day-to-day operations of the garages.

The City Center contract has two options for renewal, starting in August, and Bargeman said the city had not made a decision. 'They are both competent business people and should be able to work well together,' he said. 'We hope it is a seamless transition.'

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