March 17th, 2009 5:33 pm | by NIGEL JAQUISS News | Posted In: CLEAN UP, City Hall

Adams Juggles Competing Demands for Urban Renewal Dollars

Tags: Sam Adams, PDC

This week, Mayor Sam Adams made an unscheduled appearance at a meeting of the Oregon Convention Center Urban Renewal Advisory Committee. Although that group may be obscure, it is involved in overseeing money earmarked for projects crucial to Adams' vision for Portland.

The group was meeting Tuesday Monday afternoon to discuss its budget—which shows that it has about $35 million to spend over the next four years, before the district's scheduled sunset in 2013. The URAC consists of volunteers from the neighborhood and the city at large who advise the city-owned Portland Development Commission on how to spend monies raised in the district from urban renewal (PDF).

Last week, City Council voted to move forward with a proposal from Portland Beavers and Timbers owner Merritt Paulson to spend $88.5 million to bring Major League Soccer to Portland and build the Beavers a new stadium in the Rose Quarter. The reason Adams visited the meeting Tuesday was because he wants to spend $18.5 million of the district's urban renewal dollars on Paulson's proposal. That's a big ask because in addition to building out the eastside streetcar and continuing the renovation of Martin Luther King Boulevard, the district already has a number of expensive projects on the drawing board.

Among those projects:

1. The so-called "OCC blocks" a mixed-use project planned by the Schlesinger family near the Convention Center that is scheduled to get $7 million in urban renewal money. URAC member Rick Williams sought Adams' assurance that funding will not be affected by the Paulson project.

2. An entertainment district around the Rose Garden Arena proposed by the Blazers. At the URAC meeting, Blazers Senior Vice President of Business Affairs J.E. Isaac presented a detailed PowerPoint presentation of the Blazers' vision for the district and passed around an artist's rendering of various buildings. It was perhaps no coincidence Adams showed up to remind the committee that council had already voted on Paulson's proposal, which will compete with the Blazers' for scarce public dollars. One difference, Isaac noted, is that the city-owned stadium Paulson proposes for the area would be a "property tax-absorber" while a privately-owned entertainment district would be a "property tax generator." There is about $5 million budgeted in future years for the Blazers' project but although Isaac did not mention a project cost, the number the Blazers' will seek is likely to be far higher.

3. A third priority—and one that is the top priority for some URAC members—is the decades-long effort to build a "headquarters hotel" next to the Oregon Convention Center. City Council rejected a proposal under Mayor Tom Potter that would have required tens of millions in public subsidy and asked Metro, which owns the Convention Center to take a crack at solving the financial puzzle. Last December, after Metro failed to find a way to fund the $247 million project, Adams grabbed it back. It is unclear how much public money would go into such a project but an earlier study determined it would need a $35 million public subsidy and the hotel market has deteriorated since then.

What happened to the hotel project since Adams took over is a little hazy because the task force he asked to review Metro's work was never publicly named and held its three meetings in private.

And considering they are pondering a project that is supposed to benefit the public, the group's marching orders were not exactly the height of transparency.

When the mayor rolls out his findings in front of a mid-April deadline agreed to with project developers, it will be interesting to see how he and other proponents explain the massive overbuilding of hotels.
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