After nine months of public debate, Mayor Charlie Hales' proposal to shuffle and shrink Portland's urban renewal districts is headed for the home stretch.
About one-seventh of all the land mass in the city is now tied up in 12 large urban renewals areas and eight smaller ones — close to the maximum acreage allowed by state law. Much of the property taxes collected in those areas goes to the city's urban renewal agency, the Portland Development Commission, instead of schools and other local governments.
Hales says it's time to "right size" the city's urban renewal districts and stop treating them like "an ATM" for city funds.
He proposes to pull the plug on two large urban renewal areas and shrink two others, putting all that property value fully on the tax rolls. He also wants to expand two other urban renewal areas to capitalize on new development opportunities.
"We're putting a billion dollars — with a 'B' — back on the tax rolls," Hales said Thursday, when a citizens advisory committee presented its review of his plans to the Portland City Council.
The Urban Renewal Area Amendment Advisory Committee suggested only one modest change, adding a key block in Old Town/Chinatown to the River District Urban Renewal Area. The idea came from the Portland Business Alliance, which proposed adding 11 blocks, but the advisory committee could only agree on adding one block.
Now Hales' plan heads to the Planning and Sustainability Commission and Portland Development Commission board for review. Then the Portland City Council is scheduled to formally vote on his plans Dec. 17.
Here's what the mayor proposes:
n Shrink the River District by putting 30 percent of its property value back on the tax rolls. That will boost annual property taxes for the city, Multnomah County and public schools.
n Shrink the Airport Way district by putting 60 percent of its property value back on the tax rolls.
n Dump the fledgling Education Urban Renewal Area, which includes 109 acres in and around Portland State University. That was a pet project of former Mayor Sam Adams, and Hales has different views on how the city can help PSU.
n Pull the plug on the Willamette Industrial Urban Renewal Area, which never lived up to its promise and has been largely inactive.
n Add 45 acres into the North Macadam Urban Renewal Area, including 35 acres from the education district near PSU. Hales hopes to devote more money to private developments near the university instead of campus buildings, which could be problematic for urban renewal spending because of state property tax limitations.
n Extend the end date of the North Macadam district by five years, until 2024-25. That gives the Portland Development Commission more time and money to foster redevelopment of the Zidell barge plant and Knight Cancer Research Center, both of which are on the downtown waterfront.
n Add 16 acres near the new Clinton Street MAX stop into the Central Eastside Urban Renewal Area, to take advantage of new development opportunities along the new light-rail line.
n Extend the life of the Central Eastside district by five years, enabling it to tap an additional $21 million in bond financing.
The main critic of Hales' urban renewal area shuffle is the League of Women Voters of Portland.
Debbie Aiona, the league's action chairwoman who served on the advisory committee, said the mayor should have put even more property back on the tax rolls. The mayor's plan will deliver $5.4 million more property taxes to local governments in 2015-16, Aiona said. "While this sounds like a lot," the league wrote in a letter to the City Council, "the actual impact on the affected taxing jurisdictions is very small." For example, Multnomah County would get an extra $1.4 million a year.
The league would like those numbers to be larger, which would require more shrinkage of urban renewal area boundaries.
Multnomah County and the league both opposed adding the additional block into the River District, but their representatives on the advisory committee were outvoted. So-called Block 33, bounded by Northwest Couch and Davis and Fourth and Fifth avenues, is a surface parking lot controlled by developer David Gold. That once was eyed for an Uwajimaya grocery store that never went forward, and many believe it's a linchpin to further development of Old Town/Chinatown.
Block 33 already lies within the city's Downtown Waterfront Urban Renewal Area, which doesn't have nearly as much money available as the flush River District, which includes the booming Pearl District and much of Old Town/Chinatown.
Though redeveloping Old Town/Chinatown is a key Hales goal, it's not clear if Hales will endorse that change.
"The purpose of this proposal was to reduce the size of the River District," says Jillian
Detweiler, the mayor's policy director for urban renewal. "He recognizes it is an important block," she says. But she notes that the PDC once was ready to spend $7 million on the Uwajimaya project, from Downtown Waterfront district funds.
Other amendments can still come to the City Council on Dec. 17. Detweiler expects Brooklyn neighborhood leaders may present their idea to extend fingers of Milwaukie and 17th avenues into the Central Eastside district.
City Commissioner Nick Fish is readying two amendments. He wants the city to reaffirm its commitment to existing affordable housing goals in the North Macadam district, especially for poor people earning less than 30 percent of median family income. And Fish says he'd like to direct the Portland Housing Bureau and PDC to identify one or two opportunities for affordable housing projects in the district, along with a timeline and funding to build those.