THERE'S A NEARLY 14-acre chunk of land that's ripe for redevelopment in Portland's Central Business District, and the Portland Development Commission (PDC) wants it. They want it so bad, in fact, that they've gambled $2 million of your money to get it—and already lost $500,000.
The property sits on 13 contiguous blocks that PDC has long coveted. The hulking US Postal Service (USPS) processing and distribution center currently sits in prime downtown space—bordered to the north and south by NW Lovejoy and Hoyt, and to the east and west by NW Broadway and 9th.
The problem? The USPS hasn't got much reason to move from the location, at 715 NW Hoyt. But that isn't stopping the development commission. PDC Executive Director Patrick Quinton earlier this month sent a memo to PDC commissioners saying staff will spend the next several months coming up with a master plan for developing the area and restarting negotiations to buy the post office's land.
In 2008, the last time PDC tried to talk the post office into moving, things didn't go so hot. USPS spokesman Ron Anderson told the Daily Journal of Commerce at the time that the only way the postal service was willing to strike a deal for the $45.5 million site was if PDC sweetened the pot. Anderson said that PDC would have to be willing to pitch in enough money "to update all of [USPS'] technical systems and build for projected growth."
So the PDC put $2 million into an account. This "earnest money" was to go toward the final purchase amount, and was meant to let USPS know the city was serious about making the deal happen, according to Shawn Uhlman, PDC spokesman. It was also something of a giveaway: If at any time during negotiations the deal fell through, USPS got to keep whatever money it had received.
The formal agreement between the two government entities called for PDC to release cash from the account in three chunks. Upon entering into the agreement, PDC turned over $500,000. USPS was to get $500,000 more after further negotiations, and the final $1 million when a purchase price was reached between the two parties.
Then it all went to hell.
In 2011, after the PDC Board of Commissioners voted three times to extend the length of negotiations, the deal fell through and PDC lost the first $500,000, for good, to USPS coffers. The remaining $1.5 million has been sitting in escrow ever since. Earlier this month, Quinton issued a memo to PDC's board telling them the negotiations are back on, with that money potentially at stake.
The PDC has plenty of reasons to want the postal service land, which is part of a larger cluster of properties that make up the so-called Broadway Corridor. It's also packed with landmarks like Union Station, the Greyhound bus station, and the Pacific Northwest College of Art.
"The Broadway Corridor, and more particularly the USPS site, is identified in the City of Portland's West Quadrant Plan as a key opportunity site for high-density employment and signature city attractions, connecting the Old Town/Chinatown and Pearl District neighborhoods," Quinton wrote in an April 8 memo to the PDC board.
In the memo, Quinton announced that the PDC's planning to re-up its 20-year ongoing bid to get its hands on USPS' acreage. It's also looking at the financial feasibility of redeveloping the whole 24-acre Broadway Corridor, including possible upgrades to Union Station and extending several existing streets through the property.
So what guarantee does the public have that it's going to see some results from this round of negotiations?
PDC's Uhlman said the two parties are taking care this time to specify what the earnest money will be used for at each step in negotiations.
"This time, any money is earmarked specifically for design work on the new facility and due diligence on some matters that [USPS] needs to take care of," Uhlman says.
He concedes there's no guarantee USPS and PDC will be able to reach an agreement, but says the potential is great enough that it's worth another shot. If a deal falls through, the PDC may also be able to access the $1.5 million for other nearby projects, he says.
The idea, as of now, is to set up a plan that includes an option for developing the 24-acre parcel and a contingency plan in case the two entities can't reach an agreement. PDC is starting the planning in June, and Quinton expects it to be finished by the fall.
USPS didn't directly respond to questions regarding its interest in moving, its commitment to this new round of negotiations, or whether it's going to take the $1.5 million and run.
The Bloodless 20-Year Courtship of the US Postal Service
May 1995—Then-Portland Mayor Vera Katz asks USPS to consider engaging in negotiations to sell the post office facility at 715 NW Hoyt to free up the land for redevelopment. USPS wasn't interested.
2000-2007—Several groups try, unsuccessfully, to get USPS out to make way for a Major League Baseball stadium.
January 2006—Representative Earl Blumenauer sends a letter to Postmaster General John Potter asking again for sales negotiations for the site.
December 2006—PDC and Port of Portland officials meet with Tom Samra, vice president of facilities for USPS, and Stephen Roth, a USPS realty assets manager, in Washington, DC, to talk about the issue.
January 2007—PDC commissions an appraisal. Integra Realty Resources in February announces the site is worth $45.5 million, assuming the ground is free of contamination.
July-August 2007—Negotiations between PDC, Potter, Samra, and Roth continue.
March 2008—PDC extends first letter of intent to USPS and places $2 million in a non-refundable escrow account.
November 2008, March 2009, April 2010—The negotiation period is extended three times.
March 31, 2011—Final negotiation period ends, PDC forfeits $500,000 to USPS.
April 8, 2015—PDC announces it's ready to start negotiating again.