If Portland's hottest developer and its biggest parking company get their wish, the city-owned Smart Park at Southwest 10th Avenue and Yamhill Street will soon be a pile of rubble.
That proposal to eliminate an above-ground public garage also appears to benefit another developer, Tom Moyer, who has just broken ground on a private underground garage on a kitty-corner lot.
The prospect of replacing 797 low-priced publicly owned spaces at 10th and Yamhill with Moyer's 650 privately owned spaces concerns Rick Williams, a local parking consultant who once managed the city's garages.
Williams says low-cost parking spaces are key to keeping downtown viable. "The publicly owned supply of short-term parking distinguishes Portland from almost every other city in the country," Williams says.
Demolition of the 10th and Yamhill garage, the second busiest of seven city-owned garages, became an option only in the past month.
Nobody would dispute the building is a dump—records show crews were called to clean up human waste in the building 183 times in May. And a storefront at the corner of 10th and Yamhill has been vacant for more than three years. Yet the garage is debt-free and produces a "significant operating surplus," says city spokeswoman Mary Volm.
In response to concerns that the garage is blighting the West End, the Portland Development Commission last year developed preliminary plans for new elevators, redesigned street-level retail and upgraded MAX stops. (PDC earmarked $7.5 million in urban-renewal funds for fixing up the garage; the city set aside another $3.5 million for new elevators and pay stations.) When developer Joe Weston proposed building housing atop the seven-story structure, the city decided to seek other proposals.
The Bureau of General Services, which oversees the city garages, issued a request for qualifications on May 12, asking developers for proposals "with renovated ground floor retail and new development (preferably housing) above the existing garage." Two weeks later, the bureau amended its request to include "project experiences which include the removal of an existing building and constructing new development for parking, retail spaces and housing."
Among the four groups competing for the right to redevelop 10th and Yamhill is a powerhouse team of Gerding/Edlen Development and City Center Parking. Gerding/Edlen has developed much of South Waterfront and is erecting the Civic condos next to PGE Park. City Center owns or operates a majority of downtown parking. Until 2003, City Center also operated the city's Smart Park garages, including 10th and Yamhill.
The two firms worked together on the parking garage under the Brewery Blocks in the Pearl District, which City Center operates for Gerding/Edlen. They also are pursuing another joint venture at Southwest 12th Avenue and Washington Street on City Center property.
Moyer's new lot at Southwest 9th Avenue and Taylor Street, along with City Center's many other downtown lots, would arguably benefit from the demolition of 10th and Yamhill, which offers far cheaper short-term parking than private lots.
Mary Volm, a city spokeswoman, says the city's potential interest in demolishing its garage is unrelated to the new Moyer lot. "There were some ideas floating in the development community about what could be done," Volm says. "When you're investing millions, you want to make sure you're doing what the community wants."
City Center Parking president Greg Goodman referred questions about the 10th and Yamhill proposal to Mark Edlen. The developer says his group wants to build a 460-foot condo tower where the garage now stands and replace the existing structure with a combination of two new underground garages. Edlen says the tentative plan is that public parking space in both garages would either be publicly owned or publicly operated.
First to be developed would be a new mixed-use high-rise with underground parking on what's now a surface parking lot just north of the Galleria at Southwest 10th and Washington. When that lot was in operation, Edlen would demolish 10th and Yamhill and build a new underground garage there.
"We think 10th and Yamhill is a real linchpin to developing the West End," Edlen says.
A city-selected evaluation committee will begin considering proposals for 10th and Yamhill on Tuesday, July 25.