“It’s a great view for a horse,” says Sgt. Marty Schell, supervising officer of the Portland Police Mounted Patrol Unit.
The land offers an even better view in the eyes of local developers, who want the nine-horse unit moved out of there as soon as possible.
The potential demise of the mounted patrol-—proposed by Mayor Charlie Hales to help cover the city of Portland’s $21.5 million budget hole—would have the side bonus of saving the Portland Development Commission millions and aiding the plans of a powerful Portland family.
The police ponies are kept on part of the former Centennial Mills site owned by the PDC, which has sunk an unprecedented $13 million into the property since it was acquired in 2000. The PDC has promised to move the horses off the site to make way for development by the Schnitzer family’s Harsch Investment Properties.
The site consists of nearly 4.5 acres a half-mile north of the Broadway Bridge, with 670 feet of waterfront. The landmark flour mill still stands on the site, and Harsch promises to maintain 12 buildings from the early 1900s on the site as it builds office, retail and residential property.
But before Harsch can move in, the police horses have to go, and the cash-strapped PDC has promised to pay at least $1.7 million for relocation. The agency won’t have to pay if Hales gets his way and gets rid of the horse patrol.
The PDC leases the spot to the cops for $1 a year. County records say the site is worth $9.1 million.
“I’m not saying that’s the motivation for cutting the mounted patrol,” says City Commissioner Amanda Fritz. “But tying up that space—near the railroad, near the river—for horses does not seem the highest and best use.”
Hales’ office says the potential side effect of savings for the PDC wasn’t considered when drafting the budget.
“[It’s a] happy coincidence that the mayor’s proposal also would save PDC money,” Hales spokesman Dana Haynes tells WW in an email.
The PDC says it had nothing to do with crafting Hales’ budget and still has money set aside for moving the police horses. “Relocation is something we’ve had on the books for a long time; that’s the commitment we’ve stood by,” PDC spokesman Shawn Uhlman says.
But the PDC has struggled to find the right fit for the former flour mill, first earmarking it for a park and then choosing a California-based developer to turn it into a food-centric hot spot. That deal fell through in 2011, and the city settled a lawsuit brought by the developer, Shaheen Sadeghi and his companies Project SEED LLC and LAB Holding, for $200,000 last month.
But supporters of the horse unit, Friends of the Mounted Patrol, have been pushing back for months against June plans to relocate the paddock.
The nonprofit group wrote the City Council last December to protest the PDC’s plans to move the horses to a former firehouse at Northwest 3rd Avenue and Glisan Street. That site, the letter says, is too small and surrounded by train tracks, which would create round-the-clock noise and vibration.
“We appreciate PDC’s desire to fast-track development of the Centennial Mills site,” reads the letter, signed by president E. Kimbark MacColl Jr. of the Friends of the Mounted Patrol. “However, we believe making a rushed relocation decision, without an adequate community process and an opportunity for input from [Mounted Patrol Unit] stakeholders, is unwise.”
The site preferred by the organization, under the west side of the Broadway Bridge, could cost as much as $4 million. The police and city hope to cut that to $2.5 million.
The PDC has put relocating its equine tenants on a fast track, with a memorandum of understanding signed with Harsch in March agreeing the city would “physically relocate the [Mounted Patrol Unit] as soon as possible.” Harsch hopes to start construction in early 2015.
PDC officials wouldn’t comment on potential relocation sites if the patrol survives budget cuts, calling talks to move the horses too preliminary. “It’s not appropriate to rank them or say that this is the location,” says Bruce Wood, the PDC’s senior program coordinator for Centennial Mills. “It’s really up to what resources we have available, and what will fit the needs of the mounted patrol.”
Jordan Schnitzer, CEO of Harsch Investment Properties, says the horse arena and stables take up nearly half the site, making it impossible for them to remain.
“Every time they talk about cutting back on the mounted patrol, I feel a twang inside,” Schnitzer says. “It’s just a friendlier kind of sense of community policing downtown.”
Back at the paddock, two other horses, Red and Diesel, stand ear to ear, lightly biting one another in play. They’re best friends, Sgt. Schell says.
He says he isn’t ready to give up hope for the unit—it’s been proposed for elimination repeatedly since 1985. Schell also hopes the horses can stay near their current spot, where they’re visible to the public and can walk to work in Old Town and downtown.
“No one has ever pet my police car—they’ve vandalized it,” Schell says. “It’s all about making the police accessible to the public.”