A POTENTIAL BREAKTHROUGH has emerged in the push to keep homeless rest area Right 2 Dream Too out of the Pearl District: Mayor Charlie Hales' surprise offer of an Old Town warehouse, first reported by the Mercury. But now, city officials acknowledge, several other hurdles have since cropped up—threatening to keep a deal out of reach.
Taken together—months after Commissioner Amanda Fritz signed a legal deal offering Right 2 Dream Too (R2DToo) a parking lot beneath the Broadway Bridge—the fate of the place is hazy, at a time when most observers and officials had hoped it might finally be clear.
On Tuesday, December 10, the Portland Development Commission (PDC) confirmed its interest in buying R2DToo's current home—two vacant lots at NW 4th and Burnside—out from under the site. The "starting point" for those negotiations, a spokesman has told the Mercury, will flow from a recent appraisal that valued the land at $1.2 million.
"That would be the point where negotiations would begin," says PDC spokesman Shawn Uhlman. "The actual final cost could be lower."
Separately, over the past week, PDC officials confirmed that the developers pushing hardest against Fritz's Pearl offer—Dike Dame and Homer Williams—have offered to buy the Pearl lot initially promised to R2DToo. That shift was first reported by the Mercury.
The offer, Uhlman confirmed, surfaced in earnest well after Dame and Williams filed a preemptive state appeal over the Pearl lot and publicly persuaded Hales to let them help find an alternative site. The PDC, which owns the lot, has ordered up an appraisal.
And also on Tuesday, Mark Kramer, the attorney representing R2DToo and its current landlord, added some new legal intrigue to the negotiations.
Hales has been pushing hard for his current offer for R2DToo: 15 months' rent, paid by the city, inside a warehouse at NW 4th and Hoyt. But R2Dtoo has pointedly refused to accept it, even after Hales went public last week, without their approval.
Kramer told the Mercury last week he'd submitted a counterproposal, but said little else. But on Tuesday, in an appearance on OPB's Think Out Loud, he spelled out some of his terms: chief among them, a guarantee that Hales would help R2DToo find a more permanent home after the 15-month lease was up.
And if Kramer's counterproposal doesn't lead to a deal? He'll sue.
"If other options don't work," he promised, "we'll bring suit to implement [the Pearl lot] contract. If others want to challenge it, they're free to do so."
Hales' spokesman, Dana Haynes, says the city attorney's office will respond to Kramer's counterproposal—although he wasn't certain how long that might take, given a power outage that shut down city hall for two days as of press time.
And time really is of the essence, because of one other complicating factor.
The owners of the NW 4th and Hoyt property have given the city only until Monday, December 16, to sign a lease for R2DToo. Hales' aide Josh Alpert and Haynes have previously said the city is competing against other offers for the site—which has been vacant for several years, according to city records.
After that, Haynes says, "The mayor will go back to the drawing board," and see about finding another building. "But that hinges on whether Right 2 Dream will accept another building."
The back-and-forth over the Hoyt site has also bled into the PDC's property-sale talks with R2DToo's current landlord, Michael Wright. Wright tells the Mercury he won't answer the PDC until he finds out what happens with the Hoyt warehouse. Willamette Week first reported the sale negotiations, citing Wright.
"I'm trying not to leave R2DToo in a lurch," he says, "if they turn down that offer."
Once Wright knows, he says, his counter offer to the PDC "won't be lower than the number they had. But we're not miles apart. We're a little ways apart."
Wright and his willingness to poke at the city in a code dispute two years ago, by hosting what's become a model community of homeless activists, have always been at the center of the impasse over Right 2 Dream Too. He's had a for-sale sign up since even before the first tents went up in October 2011 and had been talking with the city for months.
It's unclear how a sale might affect Right 2 Dream Too. Uhlman, from the PDC, would only say the relocation effort and sale talks were happening on "parallel tracks," and that the PDC was aware it could inherit the rest area.
Hales oversees the PDC. But spokesman Haynes wouldn't firmly commit his boss to keeping R2DToo on the land, either. Even under Wright, he says, "They could be evicted tomorrow." Moreover, he pointed out, the offers in the Pearl and at the Hoyt warehouse were only for 12 and 15 months, respectively.
And behind everything, in the days since Hales announced the Hoyt site, record cold has captured Portland's attention and sent its social services infrastructure into "crisis mode." Haynes says that underscores why Hales wants to find the site a building.
Outside R2DToo, however, little seems to have changed in the cold. Tents aren't great, said one woman working on a recent afternoon.
"But," she said, "it's better than the sidewalk."