The tracts of land fanning out from the eastside of the Burnside Bridge are shaping up as Portland's latest battleground. This month, Portland Development Commission (PDC) is opening the bidding process to redevelop the area known as Burnside Bridgehead. But local merchants are already skeptical that the Request For Proposals (RFP) is little more than a feigned gesture, done to placate opposition to the likely anchor tenant, Home Depot.

For years, mega-retailer Home Depot has been angling to get a central location in the city. Apparently, PDC was prepared to just hand over the large vacant tract once occupied by Baloney Joe's, a former homeless shelter. But that was until the Central Eastside Industrial Committee demanded and won its request for an open bidding process for ideas--a process that begins this week.

However, some business leaders believe PDC has already made up its mind to let Home Depot have its way with the Bridgehead--a decision, they say, based solely on the business taxes that will be generated and not what's best for the community.

Despite PDC's assurances that a Home Depot would have little effect on local merchants, business could be crippled at hardware stores like Hippo Hardware and W.C. Winks Hardware, which relocated to the area just a couple of years ago at considerable expense. Hippo Hardware co-owner Steven Miller says that even though his company has a certain niche in the marketplace, a nearby Home Depot could drastically gouge sales.

One suggested alternative to Home Depot is a small business incubator for local businesses, which would prevent the area's economic future from being dependent on one company. Plus, the money generated by such a project would stay in Portland, while much of Home Depot's revenue funnels back to company headquarters in Atlanta.

Between mid-August and November, PDC will collect proposed land use plans. At that time, the PDC evaluation committee will make a recommendation to the executive director, who has the ultimate deciding power over what will occupy the Bridgehead space.