Matt mentioned this issue in the morning news, but I wanted to give you all the skinny on the urban renewal money negotiations that happened last night at the Interstate Urban Renewal Advisory Group meeting.
Mayor Sam Adams stopped in at the meeting to ask the group to consider a big change: to study expanding the Interstate Urban Renewal Area down to Memorial Coliseum so that some of its $335 million in urban renewal funds can be used to refurbish the midcentury building. Not including Memorial Coliseum in the Interstate urban renewal area would hurt "the chances of repairing and saving Memorial Coliseum" explained Adams. The cost of repairing Memorial Coliseum is currently unknown, but city consultant Don Mazziotti says that repairing the roof alone will cost $1.1 million.
The group was skeptical. "We've heard the story, we only want to study how we might use your money, we don't actually want your money," said committee member Walter Valenta. Interstate Urban Renewal funds have been used in the past to pay for big projects (like light rail and the New Columbia affordable housing project), leaving a slate of smaller projects underfunded. The group wrote up a "gem list" this year of 16 high priority development projects in the area — some members are afraid that funding the Coliseum renovation could yank money from plans to improve Lombard street or build a plaza next to Jefferson High School.
"The last thing I want to do is reprioritize existing projects," promised Adams. "I don't want to collectively miss an opportunity that could bring increment to the district and potentially pay for itself." Adams said strongly that the Interstate funds would NOT be used to build the AAA ballpark in the Rose Quarter, just possibly be be used to refurbish the Coliseum.
North Portland residents are also wary of funding any project they think might lead to gentrification. "How would it going to be different this time?" asked one woman who was 30 years old when construction of Memorial Coliseum displaced a predominantly African American neighborhood and business district.
"Urban renewal funds are supposed to be used in blighted areas. I look at the Rose Quarter and ask, 'How is this blight?'" asked committee member Jennie Portis.
"A sea of parking lots in the Rose Quarter is blight," responded Adams. "Memorial Coliseum is in a holding pattern and it needs a lot of tender loving care."
After Adams departed for another meeting, the group vigorously debated whether to study the URA expansion. Committee member Cathy Galbraith worried about the planned 24-hour entertainment district:
"They build these kind of standard generic entertainment venues, the Hard Rock Cafes of the world. The city could spend a lot of money very quickly studying the entertainment district and I resent Interstate paying for that. This is a really open-ended proposal that I heard and I'm not sure we should be looking at this as something we're going to get, but something we're going to give."
In reality, the city can expand the district wherever its wants. Checking in with the advisory group and having the opportunity to vent and give feedback "is really more of a courtesy ask," noted Maxine Fitzpatrick. The neighbors decided to approve the study, but with language acknowledging they do not have the final say in the matter. "We know you are going to study this area, in light of your decision, here are our concerns," Galbraith summed up.