The Portland Development Commission's decision to spend up to $30 million in urban renewal funds to aid construction of a mixed-use tower in downtown Portland

raises once again the question of whether public money is best spent on projects that advance narrow public interests.

It's not that developer John Carroll's plan to raze the SmartPark garage at the corner of Southwest 10th Avenue and Yamhill Street and replace it with a 29-story tower is unattractive. We can see the benefits of improving that block, which is not enticing as a shopping destination.

But the PDC has preliminarily agreed to kick in $25 million to $30 million in urban-renewal money to replace a portion of the parking that would be lost when the garage comes down. The funds are only available because the PDC recently expanded the River District Urban Renewal Area - most of which is north of downtown - to include the block in question.

Critics of Portland's highly successful, but sometimes excessive urban renewal programs have complained about districts that never expire, boundaries that shift illogically and properties that are never returned to the general tax rolls because they sit in urban renewal areas.

Indeed, it is hard to justify another subsidy for a developer-sponsored downtown project when that money could be put to a broader public use if it were funneled back to the county or local school districts.

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