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Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Black comedy at its finest

The Portland City Council is so funny. A week ago today, the commissioners were making a big deal about their calling a six-month moratorium on property tax abatements. Commissioner Sten was pouting, doing his best Opie imitation, about how he couldn't promise anything to the developers any more, now that Dan Saltzman is up for re-election and actually has to vote against the most egregious tax giveaways once in a while. A six-month cooling off period was just what the doctor ordered, to make sure that no more votes came up between now and the primary election, which coincidentally is just over six months from now.

That was comical enough, but it gets better. Yesterday comes news that Trammell Crow, whose abatement application for its proposed Alexan luxury high-rise apartments in the SoWhat district went down in flames a while back, somehow, miraculously, through a stroke of amazing good fortune, just so happened to get an application for a new abatement filed one day ahead of the start of the moratorium. By golly, they squeaked in under the wire, they did -- lucky them. Which means that there will indeed be a vote on whether to give Trammell Crow a new abatement. Only after we've made that decision will there be no more for six months.

Isn't it rich?

When it comes to developer welfare, our elected representatives really aren't very good con men. I remember the day they voted to allow construction of the aerial tram [rim shot]. Old Vera strutted around clucking, "You'd better come in on budget! Fifteen million dollars, and it had better be a picture postcard, just as you've promised!" How ludicrous. Everyone knew the $15.5 million was a bald-faced lie. (Actually, the first lie was $10 million, but at least Governor Neil and the other pushers of the project had owned up to a 55 percent overrun before the crucial council vote.) Now we're up to a $45 million black hole, and they haven't even put up the first girder.

The same with last week's big show: Look, everybody! Moratorium on property tax abatements!

Sure, until just after the next election. Oh, and by the way, here's a pet group we'll let in at the last minute. Everybody else, though, listen up, we're getting tough!

You have wonder why the Portland Development Commission loves Trammell Crow so much. In my last round of commentary on the Alexan, I discovered that that firm manages the so-called Merrick luxury apartments over by Burgerville on NE MLK Boulevard (also tax-abated, thank you), and many ex-tenants of that facility apparently are unhappy with the service they received there.

So what does Trammell Crow have its hand out asking for this time? A rehash of its Alexan proposal, but that's really just frosting on their cake. It will go along with the spectacularly sweet giveaway they're getting on some fine downtown real estate at SW Third and Oak. The PDC bought the property for $1.2 million, but all of a sudden, an appraisal has come in that says the parcel is in fact worthless because of some vaguely stated problem or other. And so Trammell Crow gets the property for free -- free! So that they can renew our urbs by putting up, just what Portland needs, another condo tower! Great. And we property taxpayers, who see a huge chunk of our property taxes go to "urban renewal" (it's roughly 20 percent of what I'm paying the city this year), in effect are just giving them the land.

Sheesh. I wouldn't mind so much these guys' ruining Portland, if they weren't making us all pay for it.

What public good will come of the Third and Oak handout? Why, if the new condo monstrosity on that corner is a hit, it will pave the way for that other condo tower that's planned for down by the Burnside Bridge -- you know, the one that's running Saturday Market out of the only home it's ever known.

No development proposal in Portland is complete without some obviously bogus design story, and the Third and Oak tower comes with the recurring snow job about the super-duper "narrow design" that will make it light and graceful. "These buildings will be so skinny -- like needles! Or the teeth of a comb! It's like Vancouver, B.C.!" Wonderful. I seem to recall the same line being thrown around about the SoWhat towers. Take a ride down I-5 and see for yourself, folks. They look like big, fat ugly boxes to me.

Yep, it's a funny show here. All that's missing these days is Randy Gragg's Pimm's-Cup pretention. Oh, well. You laugh to keep from crying.

Comments (14)

Sine that property was originally part of Central Precinct police headquarters, it would be interesting to follow the chain of ownership that has, all these years later, having PDC pay $1.2 million for this long boarded up eye-sore, that was in City ownership in the first place.

And we property taxpayers, who see a huge chunk of our property taxes go to "urban renewal" (it's roughly 20 percent of what I'm paying the city this year), in effect are just giving them the land.

There's something...what, ironic?...about regular folks like me who pay $500 a year so that wealthy developers can build fancy condo towers for rich people...who end up paying no property tax! Am I living in bizarro world now?

Sam "Prince John" Adams: My friends, Robin Hood may be an appealing character, but the simple reality is that he's bad for the business climate here in Sherwood Forest.

Here's an idea:

If the O reassigns Jason Quick to cover the Urban Renewal beat, we'll get lots of stories exposing the misdeeds of the Tax Thieves and Kleptocrats in City Hall, Metro, etc. - and build a groundswell for running the ne'er-do-wells out of town. I'd prefer they go to the Eastern Conference but we probably should just let their contracts expire.

Then, why not re-assign Laura Oppenheimer or Randy Gragg to cover the Blazers? Then we can get lots of stories about the rebuilding of the young, promising, character-laden team, in the manner of stories about Light Rail, Tax Subsidies, Urban Sprawl, Green Design, etc.

This simple change would do a lot to improve Portland's livability!

Ramon that was so good it deserves applause.

Are you suggesting that the Charter should be changed to have elections every six months?

Will someone recall the DA from his Elephant Back Safari?

Whether it's game viewing from their backs, picnicking with them in the bush, grooming, feeding or swimming with them, or simply experiencing the pleasure of being close to such magnificent animals, the encounter is truly unforgettable. The concept of elephant riding has been pioneered by dedicated conservationists who believe that sustained utilization of wildlife - essentially, getting the elephants to pay for themselves - is the only means by which the elephant will survive in this modern world.

BTW -- Shade tree mechanics are notorious for underestimating the time for an afternoon project by at least a factor of 3, with no one else to blame . . . unless they just want an excuse to play around a little longer.

It came to me in a dream last night: I saw a beautiful rooftop garden on the new convention hotel. Then I saw the twin spires of the Convention Center through the fog, only there was a platform between them. What’s that? Suddenly the fog lifted and there it was through the mist! The new hotel connected to the Convention Center by an aerial tram!!!!

I thought Portland was supposed to be building UP, NOT OUT. Why isn't the new hotel being built ON TOP of the convetion center?

Let Metro set the example of true high density, instead of merely cramming it down other people's throats.


I like the way you think. Maybe we can strike a compromise and build the hotel directly over the Max tracks with the trains coming through the lobby.

Speaking of fixations, what's with Trammel Crow naming their properties "The Alexan"?


I thought SoWhat was supposed to be a unique development. Something that was supposed to put the city on the map. Turns out Portland is no better than Kissimmee, Coral Gables, Austin, Orlando, LA, Raleigh, Kirkland, and (*blech*) Seattle, all homes to "The Alexan". How about as long as the city leaders are giving money away, they require their developer buddies to come up with an original name for their properties?

"Alexan" in Greek means "the one who does not talk." In this case, the deal that's being proposed to the city is unspeakable.


"I believe a great city begins as an act of the imagination."

"[. . .] I propose that we cover sections of I-405 and bring back a great neighborhood."

The intensity of skepticism must match that of the dreamers. (Ted "Oregon. We love dreamers." )

Bonding opportunities are infinite.

12871 Acres

The reckless skimming and looting for private developments and boondoggles is devouring part of the property taxes coming from 12871 acres of Portland. All of which would otherwise be going to basic services if not diverted for pet projects.
The fast and loose shell games spawned from concocted notions that good development cannot happen without massive public expense is getting uglier every day.
All the while the many legitimate and genuine public wants are perpetually met with "sorry lack of funding" responses from the same public officials perpetrating the ugly.

I think they call it leadership and accountability.
During elections anyway.

Portland Urban Renewal Districts, Created - Acres

Airport Way, 1986- 2780
Interstate, 2000- 3744
Central Eastside, 1986- 681
Convention Center, 1989- 601
Downtown Waterfront, 1974- 309
Gateway Regional Center, 2001- 653
Lents Town Center, 1998- 2472
North Macadam (SoWa), 1999- 409
River District, 1998- 310
South Park Blocks, 1985- 161
Willamette Industrial, 2004- 751
12871 Acres

I've heard through the grapevine that tennants now call The Merrick, The Getto in reference to all the crime that Trammell Crow seems to ignore now that the building is full.

It's ghetto and no, its not nicknamed that because of the problems in the building, it's a nickname for the area around the Merrick because the people living in the Merrick are paying Pearl prices in rent but live in a dead area of the Lloyd District (which actually most of the district seems dead). Anyway, those fools choose to rent there so I could care less if they are having problems with street people and druggies out front that were already there before the building was built, during construction, and as they pulled their moving truck up to the unloading dock. I looked at their pads, and they were pretty nice, but I aint paying no $895 for a studio and another $150 a month in parking to live there.

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