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Sustainability Center Has Private Partner

One of Mayor Sam Adams' pet projects, the Oregon Sustainability Center, is back on the table—this time with a private tenant.

The proposed $62 million, eight-story building is supposed to be the world's tallest without a carbon footprint. But it's been criticized as a waste of money. And lawmakers earlier this year refused to authorize state bonds to help finance it. City officials, including Commissioner Nick Fish, said they wouldn't vote for it unless it had a significant private investment.

Now it does.

WW has obtained a 10-year lease proposal between the city and Portland-based Interface Engineering, dated Sept. 10, that calls for the company to help design the building, rent about a third of its space, and give it an option to become an owner. The proposal has lopped off a story and an auditorium. The new price tag is about $50 million.

Oh, and it has a new working title: the Innovation Center.

"I don't think 'Oregon Sustainability Center' holds much resonance for the city of Portland right now," says Peter Parisot, Adams' director of economic development.

Many of Adams' goals for the building remain unchanged. It's still likely to be funded by city-issued bonds, and have the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability, Portland State University and downtown developer Gerding-Edlen as tenants. 

But the size of the project has shrunk somewhat.

"It's a smaller building," says Parisot. "We're down at least one floor."

Interface president Omid Nabipoor says his company pushed the city to scale down the project.

"As a private, for-profit enterprise, we asked them to go back and scale the costs down," Nabipoor says. "I've always understood the concern about the high costs of a big project—that stigma. We're not the type to pay high rates for a type-A, high-class building."

Nabipoor says Interface, which specializes in green-building design, plans to exercise its ownership option, thus providing the project with private financing.

"It's our intention to own our piece," he says. "We feel like we need to have skin in the game."

For Adams, securing a private tenant for the "living building" is another item checked off his carefully guarded to-do list before leaving City Hall.

"This is an important project for the mayor," says Parisot. "But more importantly, he understands it's an important project for the city of Portland. It's a showcase project."