The Oregonian: PSU's Wim Wiewel wants greater certainty from urban renewal
Author: Brad Schmidt
Posted: March 24, 2014

Read the original article in The Oregonian here.

Wim Wiewel doesn’t want to play the fool.

Two years ago, the Portland City Council approved a new $169 million urban renewal district expected to pump millions into Portland State University.

Today, Mayor Charlie Hales is talking about killing the very same district while still cobbling together a plan to send some money to Portland State University.

Whatever happens as part of the high-stakes negotiations, Wiewel, Portland State’s president, (right) wants iron-clad language as part of the pact.

“Fool me once, shame on you,” Wiewel said. “Fool me twice, shame on me.”

Securing sign off from Portland State University will be perhaps the single most important requirement for Hales’ plans to tweak several urban renewal districts in the central city.

Hales hopes to revise district boundaries to trigger more redevelopment along the South Waterfront and the new light-rail line to Milwaukie, while returning some money to the tax rolls from the successful Pearl District.

Negotiations between Portland State University and the Portland Development Commission are now centered on a $20 million to $30 million city infusion for university  projects, Wiewel told The Oregonian. As part of the negotiation, Portland would provide funding in the near future, perhaps the next five years.

But so far the process hasn’t been smooth, leaving questions about the city’s commitment to government partners and the value of City Council decisions.

Hales, while running for mayor in 2012, said he supported the Education urban renewal district. The City Council voted 3-1 to create it in May 2012.

“At times, government and even candidates need to go back on something they said,” Wiewel said. “I’m not really in the gotcha school. The world changes. But on this one, nothing has really changed to make this necessary.”

Under the original inception, the Portland Development Commission planned to spend $50.3 million on “PSU and PSU related projects.”

But the university never signed an intergovernmental agreement with the city, as Multnomah County did for a $19.2 million contribution to be funded from the urban renewal district.

Wiewel said he remembers asking then-Mayor Sam Adams and Patrick Quinton, the executive director of the Portland Development Commission, why PSU didn’t have a signed agreement.

“And I remember Patrick Quinton saying, ‘A list like this is very certain,’” Wiewel said, referencing the project list of $50.3 million.

Wiewel said funding from the urban renewal district will play a big role in helping the campus expand to eventually accommodate 38,000 students.

Portland Mayor Charlie Hales (right) said his commitment to Portland State University hasn't changed. --Faith Cathcart/The Oregonian

Hales first approached Wiewel Nov. 13 about options to shutter the Education district, Wiewel said. While surprised at Hales’ direction, Wiewel said the conversation was one of the best he’s ever had with an elected official, praising the mayor’s understanding of the issue and willingness to listen.

As part of the plan to kill the Education district, city officials are now considering an expansion of the North Macadam urban renewal district. That boundary change could fund some Portland State projects.

“It’s got to have a greater degree of certainty than the previous incarnation had,” Wiewel said. “I thought that was a very certain thing.”

Shawn Uhlman, a spokesman for the PDC, said he isn’t involved in negotiations and couldn’t comment on the $20 million to $30 million figure shared by Wiewel.

Ed McNamara, Hales’ policy director and liaison to the development commission, also declined to provide specific numbers.

“PDC and PSU are actively engaged in a conversation to establish a new set of priorities for an expanded” North Macadam district, McNamara said in an email. “The intent is not to match the previous priorities but establish new ones that match the funds and geography of (the expanded district) and meet the needs of PSU.”

Beyond Portland State University, the other big point of contention for Hales’ plan is funding for affordable housing. Eliminating the Education district would wipe away $45.9 million estimated for affordable housing projects within the district during the next 30 years.

To bridge the gap, officials would increase spending on housing projects by $30.5 million in the Central Eastside and North Macadam districts. The Portland Development Commission could also tap $5 million from the South Park Blocks district, an urban renewal area that has already reached its debt limit but will be repaying bonds until 2024.

Under the current proposal, the city would spend $10.4 million less on affordable housing through 2045. But because much of the spending would be accelerated to between 2021 through 2025, city officials say all the changes have a net present value that equals a $2 million increase.

Hales, during his State of the City speech Friday, said the city needs to make strategic changes to urban renewal boundaries.

Hales called himself an “ally” for Portland State University. He also noted that if he failed to a be a good partner, his wife, Nancy, who works for the university, would change the locks on their Eastmoreland house.

“Some boundaries on a map are going to change,” Hales said. “But my commitment, and the City Council’s commitment, to support Portland State University in its mission is not going to change.”