Metro and City Revive Talks About Using Portion of Expo Center Parking Lot as a Car Camping Site

The deal flopped last year after a year of discussions because the two sides couldn’t agree on which part of the parking lot to use.

Elected officials from Metro and the city of Portland are convening an emergency meeting April 18 to discuss using a portion of the Expo Center parking lot as a sanctioned car camping site for people living in their vehicles. It’s the revival of a yearlong conversation that disintegrated last fall after the two governments could not agree on which part of the property to use.

Metro President Lynn Peterson told WW in a Wednesday interview that she and City Commissioners Jo Ann Hardesty and Dan Ryan will jointly ask the seven-member Metro Exposition Recreation Commission, which oversees the Expo Center’s operations, to allow negotiations to begin for use of a portion of the Expo parking lot. (Which lot or lots are on the table is not yet clear.)

Peterson initially told WW the city would foot the cost of paving the requested lot or multiple lots: “Hardesty will be there because she’s found the money to pave the parking lots that we requested from MERC, and we’ll talk to the MERC about how to site a safe park,” Peterson said.

Peterson later walked that statement back and clarified that what she meant was that Hardesty was committed to helping cement a deal and could find some money if necessary—and not that Hardesty had offered the funds for it.

The city’s estimated cost of rehabbing the gravel lot last year was $1.5 million.

If approved by four of the seven MERC commissioners, Metro and the city will begin discussions about which part of the parking lot could be used. While clearing the idea with MERC is one hurdle, another major obstacle still exists: Metro and the city for a year were unable to agree on which part of the lot should be used.

Ryan asked Metro in 2020 for a paved lot at the Expo Center for a car camping site. Metro would only offer a gravel lot, which Ryan argued was too expensive to rehab.

In September, after a year of correspondence, the city and Metro stopped negotiating with one another.

It appears that for Ryan’s office, a paved parking lot is still a requirement.

“[We] will continue to advocate for a paved [parking] location at the Expo Center so that we can act with urgency—and responsible financial stewardship—to connect Portlanders living in their vehicles with vital services,” Ryan’s spokeswoman, Margaux Weeke, tells WW.

The meeting offers a second chance for what many saw as a mutual failure by both the city and Metro to lock down a parcel of land for safely housing homeless people that was seen as low hanging fruit; the Expo Center is a financial albatross for Metro that it’s been trying to offload for years.

Ryan’s office announced earlier this year that a safe car camping site would be sited at 9827 NE Sunderland Ave., a lot owned by the Portland Bureau of Transportation, a bureau overseen by Hardesty. But Hardesty tells WW that just one car camping site “will not match the scale of the need.”

“My office has been in conversations with Metro President Peterson and Commissioner Ryan’s office to move forward another safe parking area, and we are hopeful that working together we can find a solution for this needed resource,” Hardesty tells WW.