Now that the Federated Companies have agreed to buy the 3-1/2 acres in Bayside to build Midtown, we of Keep Portland Livable can look back with pride at our accomplishments over the past 3-1/2 years.
First and foremost, we are the only group inside or outside City Hall to have altered this project in any meaningful way. During 18 months of hearings, the Planning Board’s total impact on this massive development was to narrow one parking garage by two feet and tinker with one building façade.
It’s the revised plan that we of Keep Portland Livable brought about with our legal suit that will be built. It requires Federated to build more than 400 apartment units in a single phase. The number of parking garages for the total project has gone from two to one.
That’s two-and-a-half times more apartment units than were assured under the original multi-phase plan.
The original contract between Federated and the city of Portland only required the developer to build Phase I with 170 units.
And they could have been hotel rooms.
Under that contract, Federated could have built a single tower and a massive garage and received the $10 million subsidy from the city without doing anything else.
Federated’s owner Jonathan Cox could have then sold the remaining land back to the city for roughly the price paid for all of the land to start with.
Indeed, Cox said that beyond building the single tower and the massive garage, “There are many possible end games.” Immediately after getting approvals for this three-phase plan, he began shopping the development to other developers.
The developer and Keep Portland Livable agree, and have stated so publicly, that the project’s current plan is better than the original for many reasons, and the Planning Board and City Council have approved it with a single dissenting vote.
Because of the one-year delay brought about by community opposition led by Keep Portland Livable, the new city manager was able to seize the delay by the developer to assure that what are built are apartments, not hotel rooms, whoever builds them.
It is now likely that Midtown will be built. But it’s worth noting that since its outset, this has been one of highest risk projects ever proposed in Portland. It proposes to build more apartments than any other single development in the city’s history in a run-down neighborhood on a site subject to flooding surrounded by dusty parking lots, a junkyard, a storage warehouse, and chain link fences.
No wonder Jonathan Cox of Federated would rather sell the project’s approvals and cash out. For him, it would be guaranteed money upfront leaving to some other developer all the risks of actually building and trying to rent all those units.
Beyond Midtown, we of Keep Portland Livable intended to be a group that did just that, helped to keep Portland livable. We had hoped to have some specific and some general impacts.
Specifically, we went after Midtown because it was the first and most egregious example of a major project ill-suited to its location in Portland. We believed correctly that because it was a city contract on city-owned land the project was headed—after a long but superficial review process—to receive a rubber-stamp approval.
Recall that we sued not the developer, but the city of Portland, over its flawed review process.
More generally, we felt that if we could affect this project, it would empower other Portland residents to believe that they could affect even those projects that were improperly destined for city approval. They now know that you can successfully fight City Hall.
We had also hoped that our willingness to compromise with the developer would serve as a role model.
Others have certainly felt empowered to opposition, as we have seen in one neighborhood after another in the past year, but unfortunately our example that compromise achieved ends that rigid opposition couldn’t has not taken root to the same extent.
For all of these reasons and more, we of Keep Portland Livable are proud of the important roles we have played in the evolution of this project and its ripple effects for bettering the housing and lives of Portland residents in the years to come.