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The Oregonian: What should Portland State do with 4-acre University Place property on TriMet line? Public invited to weigh in
Author: Betsy Hammond
Posted: April 21, 2014

Read the original article in The Oregonian here.

Ten years ago, Portland State University bought a money-losing hotel and conference center at the south end of campus, thinking it would build much-needed student housing on the four-acre site.

But unanticipated economic forces meant that potentially gigantic dorm was never built. And, now that a for-profit student housing outfit has built a huge complex just a few blocks away, on a more centrally located spot, no dorm is needed on the four-acre site after all.

So: What should Portland State do with the prime, large downtown site that is home to the 1960s-era University Place hotel -- especially now that the new Lincoln Street MAX station is slated to open right in front of the property once the orange line starts running over the new Tilikum Crossing bridge in 2016? 

In most places I know, that question would be left to urban planners and facilities officials at the university that owns the land. But this is Portland. So anyone on campus, in Portland or who needs to fill their calendar with another public process meeting is invited to weigh in. A public hearing is set for Wednesday afternoon at University Place to share information about what is under consideration and to get public reaction and suggestions.

Last summer, TriMet awarded a $150,000 planning contract to a quartet of local firms --  Johnson Economics, CH2M Hill, Angelo Planning and DAO Architecture -- to propose a best use for the property.

Portland State encouraged the firms to take an open-ended approach to seeking a public-private joint venture that would increase density, draw businesses and people to that section of downtown, serve PSU students and help the university, as a whole, according to PSU spokesman Scott Gallagher.

"We didn't put any limitations on them," he said. "We didn't say we need blank amount of space for student classrooms or offices."

Gallagher said he has no clue what the planning firms have come up with.

University Place and PSU's ownership thereof have been subject to plenty of criticism. The Portland State faculty union says the university's $750,000 annual subsidy of the fraying hotel is a waste of money and a betrayal of the university's core academic mission. And journalists at Willamette Week exposed a troubling exploitation of workers under the PSU hotel-operating regime.

Gallagher said PSU never intended to own or operate a hotel and is eager to see the property put to better use.

"It's very rare to come up with four-plus acres of land so close to campus with ready access to the highway, close to the waterfront and right on the MAX line," he said. "The location is absolutely perfect for development."
Share your thoughts
What: Open house on future of University Place property
When: Wednesday April 23
3:30 p.m. to 6 p.m.
Where: University Place
310 Southwest Lincoln Street
Willamette Ballroom
Who: All are welcome