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Mayor's mind on development

Hales clarifies stance on Hayden, HQ hotel, gentrification


Mayor Charlie Hales on Tuesday likened the ill-fated Columbia River Crossing project to the Black Knight character in the movie “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.”

In the comedy classic, the knight keeps fighting on, even after having both arms severed in a sword fight with King Arthur, saying “ ‘Tis but a flesh wound.”

If the multibillion-dollar bridge and light-rail project to Vancouver, Wash., is truly dead, Hales said, he’d like to revive the idea with Portland and Vancouver city officials in the lead.

Hales questioned the leadership role played in the Columbia River Crossing project by the Washington and Oregon state transportation agencies. He cited three other megaprojects proposed by “highway” bureaucracies in past years in the Portland area: the Mount Hood Freeway, the Westside Bypass and the Interstate 5 freeway ramps off Water Avenue.

Like the Columbia River Crossing, each of those projects died before moving forward, despite considerable public investment and debate.

State highway-building agencies “should be in the bus” for future discussions on a new bridge and light-rail line to Vancouver, Hales said. “They shouldn’t be in the front seat of the bus.”

Island can serve dual purpose

In a wide-ranging interview, Hales also gave a clue on his stance on the proposed annexation of West Hayden Island, which is proposed by the Port of Portland to enable the development of marine trade terminals.

The Portland Planning and Sustainability Commission has endorsed the annexation, as well as conditions to allow the terminals along with environmental protections.

After a half-day touring the site, Hales said he was most impressed with the size of the 800-acre western half of the

island.

After seeing the 300-acre site proposed for marine terminals, Hales said he came away thinking there is room on the island for both trade terminals and a well-preserved natural area.

“It doesn’t have to be a zero-sum game,” Hales said.

The annexation proposal is slated to come before the Portland City Council this fall.

The mayor said he has closely examined a new city study on looming threats of gentrification, and a map of neighborhoods considered vulnerable to future displacement of residents and merchants.

Hales said gentrification isn’t all bad if it means the city and its residents are getting more prosperous and its neighborhoods more desirable.

“I’d rather grapple with the problems of success than the problems of disinvestment,” he said.

Hales recalled that when he first took office as a Portland city commissioner in 1993, there were 2,000 vacant and abandoned homes in inner North and Northeast Portland.

“Twenty years ago, people used to talk about inner-city problems,” he said. Now Portland’s inner-city neighborhoods are among its most desirable ones, he said.

Hales suggested new terminology is necessary, given Portland’s changing urban environment. Another example, he cited, is the name given years ago to the inner Southeast Portland neighborhood coalition, Southeast Uplift. Many could argue those neighborhoods have had plenty of uplifting since then, he said.

The city’s main tools to fight the down side of gentrification — displacement of longtime residents — are largely in the ability to provide affordable housing, the mayor said. “Those (tools) are not enough,” he said.

However, Hales said his major efforts to stem problems from gentrification will be to spur the creation of more family-wage jobs, so people can afford to live in the city.

HQ hotel support, with caveat

On another issue, Hales says he’s “generally supportive” of the planned subsidy package being discussed by Metro to lure a headquarters hotel to operate in sync with the Oregon Convention Center.

However, Hales said he wants to discuss a required base level for room rates charged by the convention headquarters hotel, as part of the subsidy deal.

Hales said he’s concerned the hotel operator might slash room rates when there are no conventions in town. That would provide unfair competition to other hotels in town, Hales fears, because the headquarters hotel operator would be getting public subsidies that its competitors do not get.

Metro President Tom Hughes is negotiating with a team including Hyatt Hotels to own and operate the headquarters hotel, and the subsidy package includes diverting existing lodging taxes. The Metro Council is set to vote on those terms Thursday, Aug. 15. The Portland City Council and Multnomah County Board of Commissioners must agree to that shift in the use of lodging taxes.

“The details matter,” Hales said of the prospective subsidy package. When he discusses the deal soon with Hughes, Hales said, “I want to hear about the room rate floor.”

When asked about the fate of Veterans’ Memorial Coliseum, Hales reiterated his past concerns that the city doesn’t have enough money to properly refurbish the historic building.

He noted there seems to be a rising interest in drawing a National Hockey League team to Portland, and holds out hope that such a team would make a permanent home in Veterans’ Memorial Coliseum.

“Maybe they’ll help this Rubik’s Cube,” he said.

Steve Law can be reached at 503-546-5139 or stevelaw@portland tribune.com