THE PUBLIC MAY NOW at last be granted a seat at the Rose Quarter negotiating table, following Mayor Sam Adams' decision last week to back down on a plan to demolish Memorial Coliseum as part of the redevelopment of the district. But the Mercury has discovered that Adams' office was pushing hard to get the Rose Quarter redevelopment off the ground long before Adams became mayor.
Adams first publicly announced the plan on April 7, at the conclusion of a hasty two-day design workshop to lay out the future of the Rose Quarter with representatives from the Portland Trail Blazers and the Cordish development company.
"There have been many plans for this district, but little action," said Adams at the time, prompting public outcry from veterans, architects, and Portland's design community who said demolishing Memorial Coliseum would be unacceptable.
Adams argued that the aggressive timeline for the coliseum's demolition and redevelopment of the Rose Quarter would allow Portland Beavers owner Merritt Paulson to site a baseball stadium there, making way for a planned Major League Soccer franchise at PGE Park.
Currently, Adams is looking again at putting the baseball stadium in Lents, telling the Oregonian he plans to set up a "deliberative public conversation," with plenty of time for the public to weigh in on the future of the Rose Quarter.
But Adams' chief of staff, Tom Miller, was petitioning former Mayor Tom Potter's office last September to allow Adams to accept the gift of a private jet flight to Kansas City. Once there, Adams was to tour the Cordish-built Power and Light District, a blueprint for future development of Portland's Rose Quarter.
"PDC [Portland Development Commission], Nike, Trail Blazers, and the Cordish Companies are collaborating on a possible major economic development opportunity in the Rose Quarter," wrote Miller, in an email to Potter's chief of staff, Austin Raglione, last September 22. "The relevance of the transport is to facilitate conversation among decision-makers that otherwise will not occur without the flight."
Kansas City business owners have since told the Mercury that the Power and Light District has been bad for local businesses, and have questioned Cordish's cookie-cutter redevelopment approach ["Little Dubai," News, April 16].
Miller was justifying the proposed private jet flight in response to an email from Raglione, who told him: "The mayor is not comfortable accepting a gift for transport on a private corporate jet on behalf of a city council member."
When Miller wouldn't back down, Raglione asked Potter for his reaction. "Same answer, 'no,' same reason," Potter responded. "I don't think it's appropriate. I assume Sam could bring this issue to council for a vote. I would still vote no for the same reason."
Miller ended up flying coach to Kansas City along with Adams' senior policy director, Kimberly Schneider. Despite what the emails suggest, Miller told the Mercury late last week that Adams' office "decided independent of the mayor's decision the proposed trip wasn't the best use of Sam's time anyway." Miller—who flew to Brussels this week for a conference on bicycling with Adams—did not respond to the Mercury's repeated requests for clarification on this point by press time.
"I'm encouraged by what I've heard about the mayor's desire for a public process around the Rose Quarter," says architecture blogger Brian Libby, who led the charge to save Memorial Coliseum. "But cautiously optimistic, because this has to be a real public process and not lip service.
"A willingness to take a ride on a private jet does not sound like the right way for a leader to listen objectively," Libby continues. "Even if your intentions are noble, it makes you seem like a fat cat, being wined and dined."
There are also public records questions about what happened to the private jet emails. The Mercury first made a public records request for them in mid-April, after being tipped off anonymously. The city responded on April 28, saying several searches for "email between Tom Potter and his chief of staff on September 22, 2008, with the subject: 'RE Private Jet Ride'" had turned up no results. The Mercury then persuaded its source to turn over the emails, and independently verified their authenticity before confronting the city with them.
"Lucky for us you asked again," says Laurel Butman, principal management analyst in the city's Office of Management and Finance, who oversaw the Mercury's public records request. Butman agreed to hand over the emails on Monday, May 11, but couldn't provide an explanation for the failure of the city's original search.
Butman says the city's Bureau of Technology Services is now "doing their testing and troubleshooting, trying to figure out why [the emails] didn't show up the first time."