SEEMS IT'S TIME, once again, to revel in the outsize and rather colorful role property owner Michael Wright has played in the saga over Old Town homeless rest area Right 2 Dream Too (R2DToo) and its would-be move to the Pearl District.
Wright, you'll remember, has been hosting R2DToo on his vacant land at NW 4th and Burnside, virtually for free, since October 2011. He calmly took heat from code enforcers, despite fines that eventually topped $20,000. He joined a lawsuit over those fines—the one that Commissioner Amanda Fritz stepped in to settle with a relocation deal. And he's stood next to homelessness advocates at rallies and other events, talking about the need for people on the streets to have a safe night's sleep.
But this gesture, you'll also remember, wasn't initially a sign that Wright's prison-thickened bark (he served out a murder rap) might be protecting a soft, sentimental center. It started out as a good way to poke the city in the eye. And now, with his reputation lightened up by an act of kindness, Wright's finally about to cash in. And I applaud him for it.
But first, let's have a history lesson.
By 2011, Wright had spent years locking horns with former Commissioner Randy Leonard over his land—prime real estate in a corridor that has developers salivating—and what he could or couldn't do with it.
The business he co-owned, Cindy's Adult Bookstore (known for years as a den of vice), had been bulldozed thanks to Leonard's holy wrath of code violations. Then, a proposal for food carts was rejected because it wasn't a paved parking lot.
Wright decided the city was trying to drive him off on the cheap. So he hit back. He invited in Right 2 Dream Too—and its political headache as a place that's well run and vital, but also technically illegal. And then he waited.
Under the old council, with Leonard, it was obvious city hall wouldn't do business. That all changed when Leonard retired and Mayor Charlie Hales replaced Sam Adams. Hales was perfectly willing to shake hands if it meant making everyone happy: developers, citizens, and advocates.
Wright agreed to clear his land by the end of this month. Hales and Fritz promised that the well-connected Portland Development Commission would help him sell. Case closed.
But then came word on Monday, October 21, that Wright would be able to wring something else out of the city for his trouble.
The city, over the past few weeks, has put Fritz's deal with R2DToo on hold—letting Pearl developers and neighbors take their own shot at finding the rest area a new home that they like better. Those talks haven't gone so easily, meaning R2Dtoo will have to stay on Burnside a bit longer.
Wright could have gone along for nothing. But he didn't. The finer points are still being worked out, but Wright's due to receive a bit more "compensation," this time from the developers. Might they buy the land?
"I'm not sure," he says, "exactly what's on their mind." You could tell he was smiling.