When they write the history of how Portland went to pot in the early 2000's -- from a unique, livable, family-friendly city to a crowded, overpriced New York wannabe where the California Lexus SUVs go to die -- the South Waterfront concrete tower jungle will be front and center. And in that chapter, tomorrow's an important day.
The City Council is going to pass another tax abatement for a huge apartment tower, but this time, it will be for a building of 300-plus rental units, not condos. The building will pay no property taxes whatsoever for 10 years. The justification for this is that it's a reward to the developer, Trammell Crow, for including low-income housing in the building, but the low-income housing turns out to be laughable. It's 48 studio apartments, at a tiny 480 square feet each, which will rent out at "only" $850 a month.
The rest of the building is going to be way pricier and hella toney. As the Trammell Crow website puts it: "Combining luxury with convenience is what the Alexan brand is all about."
The official estimate of how much this is costing the city's taxpayers is $7.5 million over the 10 years, but that number is so thoroughly cooked that it looks like somebody misprogrammed the microwave. At what I'm told is the going rate of 2.14 percent, that's what the taxes would be on a $35 million building. But the developer says this project's going to cost $70 million to build, and so the property taxes on it should look more like $15 million, or nearly a million and a half bucks a year. (And that's without factoring in the 3 percent annual increase that us mere peons pay.)
How much is the developer losing by including the "bargain" rent units in the plan? How much more rent could it charge on those floors? I'll tell you what, it's a lot less than a million bucks a year. Probably more on the order of a couple of hundred thousand. What a scam.
Fireman Randy's on the case, though, folks. He's already given out a couple of press quotes delicately questioning the deal. I'm sure he'll make his hard-guy face and a little speech about it tomorrow -- maybe even vote against it. But he knows it's going to pass, 4 to 1, or 3 to 1. So he can afford to make a little political hay. It's reminiscent of Damon Stoudamire, the ex-Trail Blazer who knows how to pad his average by racking up statistics during "garbage time." These are games that are already hopeless blowouts, with neither team really playing any more because the outcome is sealed. Stoudamire frequently breaks out of his pot-induced stupor and puts in stellar performances in that setting. "When it doesn't count," a friend of mine is wont to say, "you can count on Damon." So it is with Fireman Randy's "principled stand" on tax abatements.
They're calling this building the "Alexan." That's Greek for "not speaking." It's a fitting name for the project, because the handout it's getting from the City Council is truly unspeakable. I'd love to have been a fly on the wall when Don Mazziotti, Matt Hennessee and the other luminaries at the Portland Development Commission put their contaminated stamp of approval on this one. I'm sure the fine wine flowed that night.
And of course, speaking of the nefarious, no one dare mention the name of the True Visionary who turned a big buck getting this horribly misguided pig greased and slipped through the Porkland system. I'll give you a hint, though: he had trouble abating one thing.