portlandoregon.gov

THE TERMINAL 1 proposal probably dies its official death Wednesday, November 2.

Nearly five months after quiet chatter turned to fierce argument over whether a 14.5-acre plot of industrial land north of the Pearl District should become the region’s largest homeless shelter, City Council appears ready to close the door.

With a vote, the property will go back on the market, and interested buyers should have relative assurance it’ll stay there. City leaders aren’t looking to repeat this argument.

There was never an easy answer to whether Terminal 1 would’ve been a vital resource amid swelling homelessness or a cynical warehouse for the problem. Valid arguments existed for and against.

What you could say for sure about the model, proposed by prominent developer Homer Williams and a supporting cast of construction-savvy nabobs, was that it was new. It would have been an unprecedented amount of private cash targeted squarely at getting people indoors—buy-in officials have long hoped for from the city’s business community.

In a statement issued Wednesday, a day after Housing Commissioner Dan Saltzman formally pulled the plug on his proposal, Williams said he’d raised more than $360,000 to get the thing up and running.

Williams' problem wasn't funding. It was that he couldn't convince the city's established homeless services community to get on board. Saltzman and Housing Bureau Director Kurt Creager told me they knew the proposal was dead when Williams couldn’t secure the commitment of a nonprofit with experience running a mass shelter—entities like Transitions Projects or Human Solutions.

Williams had instead recruited Ibrahim Mubarak, who co-founded the respected rest area Right 2 Dream Too. It wasn’t enough.

Everyone says they respect Mubarak. City officials doubted he had the chops to run a shelter that might have grown to house 400 people.

“The cost of failure is just too great,” Creager said.

It didn’t take long to find another option. Three days after Saltzman pulled the plug on the project, he had a new space.

Friday morning, city officials gathered downtown with some of the same folks who had spurned the Terminal 1 project to announce a new 100-bed winter shelter that will be available for six months. Transitions Projects, which didn’t have much interest in Terminal 1, is running the thing. Tom Cody, whose company had already offered $8.25 million to purchase Terminal 1, is donating the space.

In other words, Portland has found much of the winter shelter space it had been looking for—and it got it along the smooth, well-trod path on which the city’s increasingly been creating shelter lately.

It’s a necessary development, but the most interesting thing to watch will be whether it sours Williams’ interest in the future. The developer and his cohort have suggested that existing homeless services providers spurned his proposal out of greed—that they felt threatened by a new model coming to town.

Right or wrong, and no matter what side of the Terminal 1 debate you came down on, you should hope that Williams doesn’t let that notion close him off for future projects.

After all, $360,000 is a lot of money, and we’ve still got a long way to go.