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January 30th, 2013 MATT KAUFFMAN, AARON MESH | News Stories
 

Strange Brew

The city is subsidizing a church-affiliated bar that plans to give away all its profits.

news2_3913PUB FINANCING: Ryan Saari says he hopes to open the Oregon Public House at 700 NE Dekum St. in February. He still needs money for plates and pint glasses. - IMAGES: V. Kapoor
     
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Stop us if you’ve heard this one: A bureaucrat, a preacher and The New York Times walk into a bar.

The punch line? The Times’ glowing story Jan. 20 revealing that the Portland Development Commission had given a minister more than $50,000 in grants to open a nonprofit bar in North Portland’s Dekum Triangle.

The feel-good story described a national trend of bars giving all their profits to charity. 

But this subsidy comes as PDC’s budget is in free fall and hundreds of Portland bars scrape by without city aid. You might wonder why newbie publicans should get to steer what is effectively public money to unspecified nonprofits. 

“It seems like a peculiar use of public resources,” says City Commissioner Steve Novick. “Economic development efforts should be focused on traded-sector industries. The restaurant industry is one with a really high failure rate.”

Let’s answer some pressing questions: 


Where does the PDC get off, giving $50,000 to a bar?

Actually, it’s $56,403. And not all of it went to the bar. The PDC, a city agency, gave the Oregon Public House $34,810 of public money from its storefront improvement program.

It added another $21,593 in public funds from the green features grant program to rehabilitate the 1909 building that contains the bar, a second-floor ballroom and a day-care center.


What did the money pay for?

The storefront improvement grant went to installing new windows, lighting, signs and an awning. The green features grant bought insulation, new heating and air-conditioning units and a water heater. 


Is this the first bar the PDC has funded?

No. In the past five years, it’s given grants to a swath of restaurants—including Burnside Brewing Company, Bunk Bar, a McMenamins in the South Park Blocks, and the New Copper Penny in Lents.


How much did this bar’s owners chip in?

Their 2011 Oregon Liquor Control Commission application shows Ryan Saari, one of three partners in the business, paid $4,500. 


How much money has the bar raised from other donors?

Saari says it’s between $100,000 and $150,000. He’s not exactly sure. “This is my lack of ability to keep track of these things,” he says.


What’s the religious angle?

Saari is pastor of the Oregon Community, a Foursquare church that rents the upstairs ballroom on Sundays. Another pub director, Charlie Sattgast, is also a minister there. The third partner, Ed Heissler, has no affiliation with the church. 


The PDC gave money to a church to open a bar?

Well, the church’s website says the two are connected: “The Oregon Community is proud to be in partnership with the nation’s first nonprofit pub.”

Saari says no. “In legal terms, there’s no connection,” he says. “There’s people in the church that have been involved, but there’s a lot of people who aren’t involved with the church.” 


Does anyone at the PDC attend this church?

Saari says Stephen Green, a business analyst with the PDC who advised the owners, goes to Oregon Community services. Green alerted the bar’s partners of the grants’ existence. PDC officials say Green played no role in awarding the grants.


How will the PDC monitor whether proceeds go to charity?

It won’t. “What they spend their profits on is not really a criterion in our approval,” says John Jackley, director of business and social equity at PDC. “I expect the community will be watching.” 

 
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