The Bureau of Environmental Services put its 14.5-acre Terminal 1 property up for sale nearly a month ago. And due to the strictures of the city's surplus property process, it'll finally get to receive bids for the land beginning Monday.
The only problem? It appears the majority of Portland City Council wants to keep Terminal 1 around.
As first reported by the Oregonian, Housing Commissioner Dan Saltzman is ready to put forward a proposal to house hundreds of homeless people on the plot, an old Port of Portland property at NW 21st and Front consisting of a 100,000-square-foot warehouse and a crumbling dock.
Saltzman's interested enough in a proposal for a massive campus for the homeless being pushed by developers Homer Williams and Dike Dame that he reportedly plans to put something before Portland City Council early next month to enshrine Terminal 1 as the site. Saltzman's office hasn't responded to our inquiries about specifics.
News of the plan came as a surprise to Commissioner Nick Fish, who oversees BES, and put out a statement this morning saying "I have not been presented with any proposal and can’t comment on the substance of the media report until I have been briefed on the specifics...I am frankly shocked that any consideration would be given to concentrating vulnerable members of our community in an aging warehouse on the river."
In a lengthy memo last month, Fish voiced doubts about using Terminal 1 as a homeless center, saying it was a rare plot of riverside industrial land in the central city, and should be used to create jobs.
That opinion doesn't much matter if three of city council's five members disagree. Beyond Saltzman, Mayor Charlie Hales' office told the O Hales is "fully supportive of the project and advancing it." And Williams tells the Mercury he spoke with Commissioner Steve Novick about the plan this morning, and that Novick's on board.
Asked whether that's true, Novick sent along a prepared statement in which he says there's no reason not to give Williams a shot.
"It's not an ideal location," the statement reads. "But in the absence of other viable alternatives, the real question is, is it better for people to be sleeping in the street than to be sleeping at Terminal 1? I don't think too many people would answer 'yes' to that question."
That question is particularly pertinent as a planned sweep of hundreds of campers along the Springwater Corridor nears.
Williams says he stumbled upon the idea for a homeless campus on a business trip to San Antonio. While reading a newspaper there, he learned of the city's Haven For Hope, and immediately pressed a city official into giving him a tour. The program consists of two parts—a covered cement "courtyard" where people can sleep on the ground outside, and a residential component.
Haven For Hope cost roughly $100 million. Williams says Portland can do something here for closer to $60 million (with something like $15 million in yearly operating expenses). He envisions between 50 and 60 percent of the funding for construction to come from private interests, and the rest to be filled in with public dollars. He's suggested calling the project "Oregon Trail of Hope," and has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to design a proposal. He expects a study he commissioned of Portland's homelessness issues, by two consultants who worked on the San Antonio project, to be completed in the near future.
"The whole community needs to get involved, and the business community has to get involved in a significant way," Williams tells the Mercury. "This is a time we need to all come together and figure out what needs to be done."
Williams says he'll avoid having people sleep outdoors, as they do in San Antonio, and that security would have a lighter touch in Portland's facility.
"Think almost of army barracks," he says. "We want beds, lockers, and then showers and bathroom facilities. And onsite medical and dental and health care."
A finished project is years off, Williams says. In the meantime, Saltzman's reportedly going to advocate changing up the zoning designation for Terminal 1, then using the warehouse as an emergency shelter space. Right now, it looks like that concept has support. If that changes in coming days, Williams says his idea might be dead in the water.
"The city has no other large parcel of land and Wapato is not a good solution," he says, referring to the unused county jail facility in North Portland frequently suggested as a homeless shelter site. "It's really hard."