Old Town neighbors have turned on Erik Sten's proposal to give the district $400 million in urban renewal money if they'll agree to move forward with a day-access center for the homeless on "Block 25," between 3rd and 4th at Flanders and Glisan in Northwest Portland.
The neighbors—who seemed amenable to Sten's idea immediately following a January 9 meeting where he made his pitch—now say they want the center built on a different block on the very edge of Old Town. At least, that's the majority consensus in a straw poll last Wednesday afternoon, January 16, at a meeting of the Old Town Visions/Neighborhood Association Land Use Committee, in the Central City Concern's basement on NW 6th and Everett.
The straw poll was proposed by property owner Michael Menashe—who happens to own a covered parking garage at NW 4th and Everett, right next to the city's current proposed site for the new access center. Menashe disputed a finding by the Portland Development Commission (PDC) that Block 25 is more suitable for the access center than so-called "Block U," kitty corner from the Federal Building on NW Broadway, outside Union Station. All but five of the 60 people present said they would prefer the city to consider Block U.
PDC argues that Block U is more valuable for private development than Block 25. Block U scored higher on PDC's "cost numerical summary" of potential development criteria like visibility and accessibility, rating an 18 to Block 25's 15. In other words, PDC thinks Block 25 would be better place to put an access center because it's less valuable to private investors. That irked some of those present at the January 16 meeting.
"We want something positive to bookend Chinatown," said Louis Lee, an accountant and property owner in the district. "Not more social services. We'd ask the city, if it wants to have a Chinatown at all, is [developing Block 25] the direction you want to go?"
"We never talk about how the community feels," said Stephen Ying, of the Consolidated Chinese Benevolent Association. "It's important to involve the community and the neighborhood."
PDC will now go back to the drawing board, looking again at Block U in comparison to Block 25.
Menashe insists Block U is a better option, although it was not even mentioned during Sten's meeting with the Old Town neighbors two weeks ago. ["Sten-sational!" News, Jan 17].
"I'm not hearing it's up for discussion," he said. "I have two siblings who have been in and out of mental hospitals their whole life. I'm very sensitive to these issues. I simply believe that using Block U for a brand-new development could house these services in a very beneficial way."
One person who still voted for Block 25 as the best choice, offered his perspective.
"At this moment I feel that this vote could be perceived as people voting for their own interests rather than those of the community," said Patrick Nolen of Sisters of the Road.