Terminal 1 portlandoregon.gov

IT WAS a minor skirmish in the battle arena Terminal 1 has become.

On Wednesday, August 17, a week after a deeply divided Portland City Council took steps to create a massive homeless campus at the surplus city-owned property, it needed money to study the effort.

So the Portland Housing Bureau (PHB) brought an ordinance before council, asking for permission to apply for a $100,000 Metro grant. That money would be used to pay a consultant to analyze how adequately the 14.5-acre Terminal 1 might eventually house more than 1,000 homeless Portlanders.

Mayor Charlie Hales and commissioners Dan Saltzman and Steve Novick supported the application. Commissioner Amanda Fritz, who’s been outspoken against the proposal, said she couldn’t justify the expense of taxpayer money. Commissioner Nick Fish, her ally in that regard, was absent.

The measure passed city council along familiar and sharp divisions, in other words. It was also sort of meaningless.

PHB had already applied for the Metro grant [PDF] four days before getting council’s blessing to do so—a fairly common practice. It turns out no city policy even requires bureaus to get formal permission to apply for grants, though such permission can help bolster an application.

PHB Director Kurt Creager told me his people brought the measure before council because Terminal 1 is so contentious.

“Since it was a high profile issue we didn’t want to make any assumptions about it,” Creager said.

Then he revealed something far more interesting: Another disagreement embroiling Terminal 1 might also amount to less than it seems.

One day after local attorney John DiLorenzo sued the city [PDF], claiming it’s preparing to rob utility customers by not reaping full rents for Terminal 1, Creager said that’s not the case at all.

He says he and Bureau of Environmental Services (BES) Director Michael Jordan have reached an agreement to lease the land at market rate.

“BES has given us a number and I have accepted that number,” Creager told me. He wouldn’t go into specifics, saying the matter would still need to be approved by Fish, but noted “it will reflect the market rate as calculated by BES.” Fish’s office in the past has put that amount at roughly 35 cents per square foot.

And Creager said something else of note: PHB doesn’t think it will need all of Terminal 1’s 96,000-square-foot warehouse when it moves homeless Portlanders into an emergency shelter there in coming months.

“We think we’re going to go live with a number of about 100 [people], comparable to the Peace Shelter downtown,” he said, referencing a recently shuttered shelter.

While it does that, PHB will happily share the space with companies that are currently leasing Terminal 1 from BES. The shelter would gradually expand use of the warehouse, until it’s occupying the whole thing—all of it at market rate.

It’s a deal that could stamp out DiLorenzo’s claims in short order—another skirmish potentially over, with many more to go.