Hall Monitor

An Urban Renewal Reckoning


Best thing I've read on this whole hullabaloo. Thanks!
One thing that I would like to address: Can we really consider this a subsidy? The land has a list price and a separate market value. Based on the prolonged vacancy, I would imagine the market value is somewhat lower than that list price. Any difference between the two is a negotiated loss of PDC assets, but not necessarily a subsidy. The PDC isn't giving Majestic $2.4 million in subsidies, they are simply taking a hit on their books.
It's about a lot more than gentrification. It is about PDC's Patrick Quinn dining on Majestic's dime at El Gaucho and not listening to residents. It is taxpayers mad at the 92 million wasted in Lents and not trusting this deal. I suspect that WW would not back the NE Portland neighbors except that they are black. Richmond neighbors were called names by certain journalists but they are white. In general smart growth has been hijacked by developers & bike evangelists, and some folks don't want to admit that.

We can do better than the deal that failed. And the deal failed because Patrick Quinn is incapable of listening to ordinary citizens.
It is about Stupidity, unfortunetly.
the pdc is just a mechanism by which blood-sucking real estate developers can jam their canines into the tax jugular of working class portlanders.
All I want to know is what is the solution? Do smaller stores who put a bird on it and sell other hipster things really do anything to "atone" for past sins. I mean we know the African American residents don't want Trader Joes but I don't know what they do want. Low rent housing? Ok. But how does a hipster strip mall fulfill that?
You can tell just how interested Trader Joe's was in this project when they cancelled the whole thing the very first time that any one said one bad thing about it. They probably never really wanted the deal, but got bullied into it by the amount of stupid subsidy being offered by the city.
What about a black Trader Joe's instead?
Not trolling here.

"...keep the neighborhood's cultural heritage intact." -- I have no idea what in the fuck that means. What is "cultural heritage" code for?

"...Trader Joe's, or even something just like it, caters more to the new arrivals than the neighborhood's longtime residents." -- How does how long one has lived in a neighborhood make it more or less convenient to have a grocery store located nearby?

"...opposed to any development in N/NE Portland that does not primarily benefit the black community." -- I have no idea what in the fuck that means. Aren't we all the same?
Trader Joe's makes the neighborhood more attractive for people to live in, so it will cause an influx of people that while maybe not rich, have more money than the current residents, driving up rent/property values and driving out the current community, who will no longer be able to afford their homes.

That's gentrification. That's what the PAALF is afraid will happen. That's why they're especially mad that, rather than work with PAALF like the PDC promised, they instead sold the land at a huge discount to an extremely wealthy developer to put in a large chain. And That's also why they wanted affordable housing included in any plans for the development.
Doesn't what PAALF is saying translate to something like: "The City needs to keep this area undesirable enough so that rich people won't want to outbid poor people for the housing here"?
HIT, good questions. Damn good questions.
I find this whole 'gentrification' argument laughable, at best. Neighborhoods are always in transition - always have been, always will be. The area in question was originally settled by German immigrants, if I'm not mistaken.
Also, one must ask - in current US of A, do we want neighborhoods defined by color only? Isn't this really against the aims of all the years of civil rights gains? And we are not talking even about some area like Harlem NY.
Getting ones panties in a twist over a low-cost grocery store strikes me as very bad leadership.
Just make sure a bunch of Quebecers don't move in, that's all I ask.
Isaac - somewhat. But that again comes back to the PAALF demand for affordable housing (which typically means rent being capped at a certain percentage of the average area income, usually around 30-35%) being included with any plans to develop the lot.

But that also does come back to the big issue around gentrification - which is more important, wealth or community? Is it a good thing to keep an area artificially depressed for the sake of racial or socio-economic politics? Is it better allow all the black people to be driven out so that white people can have another three coffee shops and tells each other how "nice" the area is now? Are we more racist for saying that an area has to be shitty for black people to be living there, or to deny that notion and in the process ensure that very few black people remain?

Regardless, it sounds like the PDC screwed the pooch on this one by paying lip-service to the PAALF then negotiating a huge deal that almost certainly would have contributed to gentrification without bothering to ask for any input.
Your article is lazy reporting at it's worst. I suppose you can't be blamed too much since your big brother in town, the Oregonian did ZERO FACT CHECKING as well (which they are now realizing and scrambling to remedy).

SO here are a few quick FACTS that reveal how your snarky little article is the liberal equivalent of a FOX NEWS story.

- PAALF is a "local" wing of a national activist group, that CAME TO PORTLAND IN 2009
- The PDC negotiations that led to this deal have been ongoing since 2000 and were led for the PAST 14 YEARS by prominent LOCAL African Americans. Far from the "back room secret giveaway" that you have all so breathlessly parroted. The lead contractor on the project was Colas Construction, an African American owned and operated firm.
- The "best use" that the appraisers used to determine the "market price" for this property was a dense block of expensive condos. By stepping in, the PDC actually PREVENTED gentrification and the "discounted price" made the developers CONTRACTUALLY OBLIGATED to take input from the community as to what was going into the other 6-10 retail spaces.
- The land has been offered to several developers (many of them people of color) over the years at an even steeper "discount" of FREE and there has been no one willing to take it on (aside from a 24 hour fitness) until now.

Possibly the most insulting part of your article is that you started by saying how these frivolous white people are all in a tizzy over losing a Trader Joe's. I live in this neighborhood and am deeply offended by being singled out by lazy reporters that have taken a very diverse and tolerant neighborhood and turned it into ground zero for a false "reckoning over gentrification". How would you like if I came to your neighborhood and leveled the same type of VERY ILL INFORMED charge.

^^Thank you for your contribution. Denis, I agree with you and understand the disappointment of those who wanted better shopping choices. As you point out this comes after years of mishandling. I don't know the ideal solution here, certainly some of you have some salient points. People don't like the term gentrification because it can be spun a number of ways. Also, more recent arrivals to Portland may feel the finger is being pointed towards them, and unfairly in their eyes
As I've learned more about this issue, I've changed my mind to now support TJ's withdrawal. One thing that shifted my thinking is that this property is the last open commercially viable plot of its size in the area. Given the long history of redlining and gentrification in this neighborhood, the least that can be done is to put some time and energy into planning this area to benefit low-income black people.

I'm in favor of some sort of mixed use thing with affordable housing with the bottom floor(s) to incubate businesses that directly provide jobs for low-income black folks. It could be as simple as hiring and training 20 mentors. Who could then go out and find 20 people who want to start sole proprietorships, or finding existing sole proprietors and trying to expand their business. This could be one way to strike back at the abstract yet very real impact of gentrification.

To those of you wondering whether the above is "reverse discrimination," I'm open to that criticism eventually: like at the point that per capita income and the unemployment rate of black folks matches the non-black population. This info from PSU/Metro (which probably undercounts the gap) is showing that there's still quite a ways to go:


@Wilbur1903, you might want to go back and do a little more research. If you did, you would find that this utopian dream that you propose is actually already possible in existing real estate 1 block away. Ray Leary, the African American developer who was subsidized to the tune of $6.5million to develop the Vanport plaza has several open commercial spaces in that development. Your business incubators could move in tomorrow. The only problem... he's not running a charity, he's running a business. These incubators would need to be economically viable. If they are, call him up tomorrow and make a proposal. The point is, this is NOT A RACE ISSUE. It is simply the economics of a growing city with middle class people of ALL RACES encroaching on any and all close in real estate.

I think Portlanders need to decide what this debate is really about now that 1 outside activist group and a lone reporter from the Oregonian have sensationalized this into a ridiculously hyperbolic city wide referendum on gentrification.

Is this about "atonement for past sins" as Mr Theriault proposes here in his freshman liberal arts thesis OR is it simply a development project that the black and white, middle class neighbors that live around this development have been going to boring community discussion meetings for a decade to make happen.

Really, if people want to weigh in on this debate, do your research first and look for first sources and city docs, not half assed articles written by rookie journalists.
@ KPH - While I admire your passion, analysis and knowledge on this issue as a local resident, you appear to lack a basic understanding of the history of people of color. Not only do you dismiss the idea of business incubators for low-income black folks, but your insistence that this is not a race issue underscores your callous disregard to the very real and disproportionate realities that many people of color face on a day-to-day basis. Had you been in reconstructionist Germany and had there been lucrative development opportunities at former concentration camps, would you have supported developing those?

The treatment of people of color at the hands of white settlers is permanently etched in this state's history. By treating this purely as a development issue, you are denying that history, the suffering faced by so many, and the institutional barriers which mandated that suffering. This is both a development issue AND a racial justice issue.

If this property were on a hillside, the property's topography would play a central role in its development. It's no different with this particular property, but the defining characteristic is its historical link to the black community that has historically lived there. To accomplish both goals of racial justice and development, it will require creative thinking that goes beyond market rates and the bottom line. Now that this issue has arisen, I hope the question Portlanders will collectively determine is, "How can this property be developed in a way that honors and sustains the black community?"
@Wilbur1903- Sorry if I came off as a troll. I have been personally involved with the discussion around this project well before it hit the pages of our scandal hungry papers.

I do see this as a racial justice issue. I just happen to agree with many of the more established African American voices in my community that this was a revitalizing project that would have given a great boost to our whole neighborhood and many good paying jobs to folks who are sick of being pandered to as, "low income" and in need of assistance.

To quote the CEO of the Urban League of Portland, Michael Alexander (speaking on the loss of this project), "I think it cost the Northeast Portland community, cost the opportunity for continued economic revitalization that could've been shaped by members of this community."

The group that destroyed this deal wasn't involved in the negotiations because their leaders were still in high school / undergraduate when they were taking place. They have existing for all of 5 years and have only really been active in Portland for the last year. They were trying to make a name for themselves by drumming up a lot of publicity and possibly gaining a small concession from it. Instead it blew up in their face and seriously hurt the many more serious minded individuals of all races that hashed this thing out for YEARS.
Oh man, are we really gonna be lectured about the plight of "people of color" from a white dude named Wilbur ?
@KPH - Glad you're starting to see this as a racial justice issue. While a Trader Joe's would certainly have been a boost for the whole neighborhood, those who truly get racial justice understand the need for this last piece of open land on MLK Avenue to primarily benefit African-Americans on an ongoing basis (not just through one-time construction jobs). To do otherwise is to settle for an incremental approach that simply doesn't do enough to address the real needs of / honor the legacy of the historically black community in that area.

I wasn't aware of the extensive amount of time that has gone into trying to fill this property. I imagine it's pretty frustrating to see this property get close to development and then this comes up. Ideally, PAALF's voice would have been included at the onset. Although some long-time activists in the black community are now advocating on this issue and could have (or may have) been involved earlier, I'm guessing they were carrying the torch of racial justice on other issues. Now that we're at this point, this is a great opportunity for the black community to lead allies, local residents, the City/PDC, and potential developers in co-creating a proposal that keeps racial justice at its center. That starts with all parties understanding and buying in to the need for racial justice as a key value of this project. Whatever proposal will come forward, there won't be entire agreement within the black community (like in any community). But now that the economy is picking up, we're in a better place to design a project that primarily benefits the black community and works for most.
@Wilbur. With all due respect, myself & my neighbors are not just "starting to see this as a racial justice issue".... It has been seen that way by all interested parties for years. That's why it took so long to put this deal together. Everyone wanted to make sure their voice was heard and that their needs were addressed. The LOCAL African American leaders made sure to secure assurances that TJ's would respect diversity in the hiring practices for their above average starting wage jobs (average worker starts at $17/hour). Another key hallmark of this deal was that having the PDC stay involved ensured that the developers would have to give minority owned businesses equal access to the 6-10 other retail spaces that would go in here. Never mind business incubators, these would have housed real, local, sole proprietorships of all stripes.

Thats what's so tragic about how this spun out of control. This should have been held up as a shining example of how development should be done in a diverse neighborhood. I know it's hard to suppress our biases as a very Liberal minded, tolerant town but I hope that people come around to the realization that this time, the PDC & the city did things right. Minorities were not ignored. Local people did have honest and hard conversations. The leaders of PAALF just happened to not be LOCAL at all (Cyreena lives in Tigard) and not interested in learning all the nuance & detail of what we spent so long working out.
What is "the kind of affordable housing that might keep the neighborhood's cultural heritage intact"? If this is code for below market rate housing, the argument doesn't hold up. Since it is illegal to discriminate in housing on the basis of race and various other grounds, any below market rate housing would be rented on a first come first served basis to those who meet the income eligibility standards. The same thing applies to employment opportunities.

While I'm not a fan of Chief Justice John Roberts, he did say something that makes sense: "[t]he way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race."
Yeah, I was wondering about this too - a cheap place to live for blacks only?
KPH, the Merc is not the place to suggest or sustain fact-based debate. It's a place for the Merc writers to champion one-sided stories, without including a shred of the opposing viewpoint, all the while saturating their writing with cheeky comments. By the time i got to the derived fact of the lot "valuated at 2.9 million", I know I was being force-fed pure shit.

"OKAY, I GET IT." No, you don't. You can't play the holy-principled-progressive game without a full deck.
So put a GD for sale sign on it, and assess property taxes for what it goes for starting at day one. The PDC can't make it go. It's the people's property.
3 million is an accurate valuation based on recent, real comps, btw
Good job synthesizing the facts and feelings around this situation. Thank you. Just because it's an uncomfortable conversation doesn't mean we shouldn't be having it.
And we really need to be having it.
@jc and frankie - yes, it would be income-based. That of course wouldn't guarantee that it would go solely or even at all to black people, but it is at least an attempt to provide alternatives for those that would be forced out of their homes but would like to remain in the community.

Gentrification is just as income-based as it is race-based, but BECAUSE it is income-based it adversely affects minorities disproportionately.
Cheap groceries, close to home, also help folks stay in their homes, and would have benefited the whole community.
I live in the neighborhood and as the rest of us who ACTUALLY LIVE HERE, I'm deeply disappointed about this whole debacle. TJ's would have added jobs and boosted a sense of community, and it would have done so for ALL residents, not just the white ones like me.

Yesterday I talked with my friend who identifies as black about this. She lives in the public housing at Alberta and Vancouver, and she was super disappointed when she found out that TJ's pulled out. She (and her neighbors) would have been able to walk to the grocery store!

The people who actually live here, regardless of skin color, think this was a terrible outcome. This gives groups like PAALF, whose advocates don't live here, a bad name. Except that we here in Portland are so married to appearing politically correct that we wouldn't dare challenge those non-Piedmont/non-Vernon PAALF dwellers for fear of appearing racist, gasp!

As an architectural/urban designer, I'm the first one to advocate for new urbanist principles of density and mixed use. Had PAALF actually wanted to benefit the neighborhood's historic demographic, they'd have actually advocated for a development with mixed-income housing above the TJ's project, instead of their belligerent war cries. Just because they're angry (and rightfully so) about the past doesn't make it OK to hold the future of our neighborhood hostage.

I agree this is a discussion to be had and shouldn't be a free-for-all for the PDC. I agree that there's a terrible history of displacement and dishonesty towards the residents of color from this hood. But PAALF just shot itself in the foot because now no one wins. But maybe they don't care, because they actually have a Trader Joe's in their own neighborhood.
Wow, an architectural/urban planner pining for a California-style strip mall, which is exactly what was in the works.

Just look how fabulous Trader Joe's has made SE 82nd! Let's give away a multi-million dollar property so they can do the same thing in our neighborhood.
"As an architectural/urban designer..." I stopped reading after that. I almost stopped at "regardless of skin color" because you are so fucking oblivious to the problem.
This is a load of C**P! The PDC has been bolstering NE MLK for decades, and just now the PAALF is crying, "where was the money?" It was there! And the profits too, I remember the payoffs to minority property owners back when there were hookers on MLK (I lived in the area in the 1990's) and lots of "regentrifyiers" bought up crack houses and rebuilt them while their neighbors were still doing crack. This is not about some group or another finally haveint their say, it's about people whining that they didn't do something smart back when they had the chance. Seriously, I was told to stay away from NE back in the 90's, that it was the hood, and I moved there anyway. I didn't by property, but I settled and spent my money locally and cleaned up the trash and walked past the hookers and I loved it. That was when I was the minority there.