Homer Williams, the developer who helped create the Pearl District and South Waterfront,
says that with enough will and political capital, developers can put bold designs
into place in Portland. But it’s hard, he says. And Con-way has taken a wrong first
step, he believes.
By showing its preliminary master plan to groups with a stake in the development,
including the neighborhood association, Con-way opened itself up for criticism before
it was ready to deal with it, Williams says.
He says he learned from his experiences with the Pearl District and South Waterfront
that he had to have agreements in place on specific pieces of developments before
his plans went public.
With South Waterfront, he says, he secured commitments from Mayor Vera Katz and from
Oregon Health & Science University on its investment in a campus that would be connected
to its main campus by the tram. And those two weren’t the only ones with whom bargains
“We got everybody around the table every Monday for months, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.,”
Williams says. “PDOT, OHSU, PDC (the Portland Development Commission), (the) planning
(bureau). We said, ‘OK, let’s make an agreement.’ ”
He says the parks bureau, for instance, wanted a greenway left along the Willamette
River. In response, he and other developers agreed to give up the four acres of property
along the river that is worth tens of millions of dollars.
In return, Williams says, the developers received commitments from the city for more
height in South Waterfront buildings and more tax increment financing that made the
Portland streetcar’s arrival in the new neighborhood possible. OHSU got its tram.
“It’s the only way to do it,” Williams says. “Let planning defend the plan. No developer
can defend the plan. The developer has to be willing to take the bullets.”
But architect Jerry L. Ward, who lives within a mile of South Waterfront, says the
fact that the neighborhood association as well as other property owners and public
interest groups were not included in those early negotiations made the process unfair.
“The neighborhood association never knew about the heights (of South Waterfront towers)
going to 325 feet until after all the amendments were signed and delivered,” Ward
Williams says he fears the Con-way plan, even with its green streets and sustainable
design, is unlikely to successfully bridge the divide from vision to reality because
criticism has begun and Con-way has no allies in place.
“I like the plan,” Williams says. “It was a bold plan. The minute they put that plan
out to the public, I thought, this is going to be dead on arrival. It’s just sad.”
Boretz says he made a decision to include the public early, and he still thinks it
was the right choice.
Specifically, Boretz says he didn’t want to follow the South Waterfront model.
“It wasn’t something I was comfortable doing – back room,” he says. “I just felt
we needed to listen to what people were saying and respond to that in conceptual
terms and not try to create special deals.”
Boretz says most of what he’s heard in response to his presentations has been positive,
and that he’s not surprised at some neighborhood resistance.
“It may be because this is the first project I’ve worked on, but I don’t think it
will be picked apart,” he says. “I think it is big enough and incorporates enough
really good public benefit elements that it won’t get picked apart.” (Bold added,
peter korn, The Portland Tribune, Apr 29, 2008 ) (Local)