Portland is a PR machine for light rail & streetcar
Here are Some Facts About Portland Oregon
Planning Failures - South Waterfront
Portland does not have enough money to fulfill its promises to a high density urban
Developer, Homer Williams, Describes the Backroom Deal Making Process
Striking deals or going public
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.
. . .
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)
Ken Novack, CEO of the Schnitzer Group, has been trying since 1993 to get the city’s
planning approval to develop 20 acres on North Macadam. He’s also been working with
a group of property owners to develop the 100 acres of property that runs from the
river to the freeway, and from the Spaghetti Factory to Zidell. “In ’98,” says Novack,
“the city came up with the North Macadam Planning Framework. We supported it.” The
plan called for mixed use, or what would be the equivalent of a low-density residential
use. “The plan reflected a lot of compromise as a process of involving everybody.
Some of the compromises were the result of a lot of thought,” says Novack
Today, Novack and the Schnitzer Group have been informed that the city is starting
“Now that same 2,200-square-foot condo elsewhere in the Atwater Place condo building
could go this weekend at auction for as little as $699,000—or about half what the
Andersons paid less than two years ago.”
“The Atwater opened in 2007 at the height of the bubble. Gerding Edlen Development
and Block 34 Investors LLC have sold only 62 of their project’s 212 units”
“Those condos were originally priced at more than $500,000, and will now be auctioned
off starting at $219,000. ”
What they don’t tell about those bargain condos:
LIDs are wonderful hidden taxes that the general public knows little about, and the
people within the districts have little control over the LID bills.
The weekend bidder winners in SoWhat are going to find out that their winning bids
are only a small portion of the debt. SoWhat will probably end up with six LIDs before
long: The Tram; The Local Street Improvements; The Trolley; The Greenway; The Milwaukie
Light Rail; The Street/Poodle Park Maintenance LID; and the Street Cleanup/Patrol
LID. Three are in existence and the Milwaukie Light Rail is on the drawing boards.
Then besides the HOV monthly fees, there will be the Special Assessment Fees for
the Atwater Tower building mistakes. The monthly mortgage and property tax payments
will be secondary.
This is the kind of information that the general public knows little about and the
mainstream media never informs the public about.
Homer Williams, chairman of Williams & Dame and a South Group principal, said last
week that the equity in the project has been spent and South Group no longer has
any investment in Evo. He would not disclose how much Westport had loaned the project,
but said the lender has essentially taken control of the building and its finances
because it still has a stake in it.
“At this point, it’s their money that’s at risk, not ours,” said Williams. “Our money
is gone, obviously.”
Though the South Group partnership is still intact, he said, “the decision-making
is in the hands of the mezzanine lender.”
According to real estate experts, when a condo market tanks, developers often lose
their equity, or raise more money and renegotiate their construction loans based
on smaller projections. In Evo’s case, it appears that South Group took a back seat
after losing its equity.
Now, “the mezzanine lender is trying to stay in position to keep their equity intact,”
said lending expert Bob Safai of Madison Partners, who is not familiar with Evo’s
financing. “It’s not the normal course of action where the mezzanine lender starts
The South Group has also abandoned plans for South Figueroa, two 34-story high-rises
planned for two parcels at 12th Street and Grand Avenue, Williams said. Those properties
have since been deeded to Swedbank, a leading Nordic-Baltic banking group, he said.
While Williams would not discuss details of the transfer, experts say that type of
transaction can be an alternative to a foreclosure.
As for the future of the South Group, Williams said, “We still exist, but there’s
not going to be any activity certainly in any near time frame.”