Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Preservation is still a bottom line concern.

Daily Journal of Commerce: "Preservation efforts go beyond bottom line."

The DJC is a business supporting publication (a print and online industry rag), thus, the content is often informative (sometimes marketing hype) and not necessarily journalistic. And that is not a criticism.

The DJC article to a certain extent ignores reality of profit making as enabled by public dollars. To the preservationist developer the bottom line is important too and he or she maintains it by public subsidies. The profit margin is not ignored or is a less of concern merely because preservation of certain buildings is their business.    

What follows is my comment (with some editing) posted to the Daily Journal of Commerce article prompted because the author skipped the effort at producing a more in-depth article to produce a more 'feel good' one.

There seems to be an assumption that building preservationists like Art DeMuro are not making a profit. Clearly that is incorrect. Could he make more profit by being a standard developer? Maybe, but everyone has a niche. And, implying that developer Edlen is a preservationist is a stretch.

When the Brewery Blocks and the Armory were undertaken - the thought wasn't 'boy we are going to lose money on this project but let's do it anyway.' As "Edlen says his firm lost money on the brewery renovation, but the preservation work added value to the overall redevelopment of the Brewery Blocks, which have made money."

One has to remember that the Armory has Edlen's name on it because of the theater. And that armory was substantially supported by TIF dollars and the hijacking of the benefit of the census track that is nearly 99% in Old Town; thus giving him access to the NMTC and the financial rescuing of his building adjacent to the armory.

The University of Oregon buying into the move to the three buildings raises also issues of proper use of public money. One argument for rehab of old buildings is that it generates property taxes, jobs, etc. But these building do not generate property taxes nor did they create new jobs beneficial to the city. Frankly, despite the hype, they have not brought the 'promised' redevelopment of Old Town.

Are historic buildings important to the community? It seems easy to say yes, but what part of the community? Would it have made any particular impact on 99% of Portlanders if the buildings were demolished and a new development was put into its place?

Are these projects cost effective? That takes definition. A lot of public dollars go into these projects so the developers can make their profit. Thus, a developer profit is protected because the public subsidizes it. Developer welfare?

Is preservation too expensive? Dollar wise - yes. Without public subsidies, these projects would not provide a positive dollar return on the developer's investment. It isn't clear though that the city receives a ROI in terms of livability, or other intangible, mostly because of difficulty in measurement. Arguably, many of these projects fail to make real impact on the value of the city to its residents.

But, for the preservationist developer - it is still the bottom line, a subsidized one.

© 2010

Friday, June 25, 2010

Burnside Couch Couplet - the movie

[Editor: Original post was published on my Oregonlive Old Town Blog: Sunday, August 06, 2006, 10:00 PM, Updated: Friday, July 06, 2007, 4:43 PM. While much of the text is regurgitated – there are significant changes and additions.]

My view is that expenditures of public funds should not be because one can, but because it will produce some return on investment (ROI). It has been suggested that an ROI can be something other than a financial return - a return on investment in terms of livability. In the couplet I see neither.

In 2005 PDOT produced a movie (Flash simulation) to support their Couplet (west side) proposal for Old Town. In their couplet studies and reports – they worked backwards. They took the desired conclusion – build the couplet – and then attempted to provide the data to support it.

The movie is part of that support. I am not quite sure why PDOT spent the money on a flash movie directed at a limited portion of the couplet in a limited portion (2nd to 5th) of Old Town, but it is much like that seen in consultants/architects studies especially those done for PDC.

They present visions, dreams if you will, and often those presentations will win awards or other praises for conceptual creativity but not for any practicality. It is similar to the car of the future concept - what you see is not what you are going to get.

The sole purpose of the movie seems to be to convince the viewer ( I am not sure who the intended viewer is or was) of the grandeur to be brought about by the couplet and only the couplet - however - reality stands in the way.

For those who live or work in Old Town - some of the sights along the virtual way are easily recognized. We know about the Grove Hotel, Union Gospel Mission, Estate Hotel, and the Adult Book Store [now demolished] with its familiar yellow sign.

Before the tour there are several questions and observations for consideration. Who is going to be using the sidewalks? What type of vehicles will be funneled onto Couch under the couplet proposals (there are two)? How many existing businesses can or will obtain any economic advantage from the couplet? What should be public funding priorities for Old Town?

Remember too that $5.5 million dollars has already been spent in Old Town for a catalytic development - festival streets and sidewalks on 3rd and 4th - without one penny spent on seismic upgrades or workforce housing. Old Town substantially lags in development. No private investment resulted. It still remains: the very poor way out number those that might be qualified as having discretionary income.

The movie's virtual path is down off the Burnside bridge going west to 5th then north on 5th to Couch, east on couch to 2nd; along the way the movie pauses at a couple of points and takes a zoomed out look. The first pause occurs at 2nd as the “camera” comes off the Burnside Bridge. It is especially important to take note of the traffic content. Here will be the only place you will see a bus, and nary a truck to be seen.

However, every vehicle, including buses, large trucks (like semi-trucks), etc, that would be ordinarily going west on Burnside will be funneled north on 2nd to Couch then west on Couch.

The new traffic flow on Couch will be 5 to 6 times the present volume. Now - Old Town (and Pearl) will have three major high volume streets - Burnside, Couch & Everett. But, in the movie you will notice that traffic is not the focus.

Following the virtual path west on Burnside, the 'eyes on the street' is quite interesting. Mothers pushing baby strollers by the Adult Book Store (with yellow sign) at 4th. And there must have been a dress code that day in virtual Old Town. People better dressed than I have seen in Portland. I liked the guy in the cowboy hat. Absent though are the drug dealers, food serving lines and people sleeping on the sidewalks.

The Adult Book Store [now an empty lot in 2010] was more than a “dirty book” store, it was known for prostitution, consensual sex and drug sales and use. We will “pass by” the Grove and Estate Hotels that are not in any way representative of a “hotel” in any ordinary sense.

In front of the grove hotel (no capitalization anymore), there are tented events. At one point, there seems to be an art exhibit. What is the likelihood that such an event would ever be in front of the grove? Old Town already has festival streets (and they are not used) and Saturday Market serves the craft needs of Portland.

Turning north at 5th - on the left is the strip club - then turning right on Couch (the camera not traffic) going east - look at the traffic content again. Two lanes of through traffic and two parking lanes. Imagine this street with buses and large trucks. It is a narrow corridor any time. There is the parking lot which will not be developed until the owner can make more money with a development than with parking cars. Going further east on Couch at 4th - Hung Far Low has ceased to exist.

Spending money on streets and sidewalks when there are a slew of buildings needing seismic upgrading seems frivolous. Without structures that can be populated - nice sidewalks and streets mean zip. Is historic Old Town to be a district with empty buildings that people cannot enter but merely stand outside listen to some tour guide relate the old days? Yes seems to be the answer.

Too bad that when the movie gets to 3rd that it doesn't look up and back on the NW corner - one of those structures (above) in major need of seismic upgrading would be seen. From the second level up - it is boarded up - one of the many eye sores of the area.

While the property owner is doing some cosmetic work - a plus - the cost to make the building habitable is prohibitive without major public funding. And there are many buildings in this situation. $1 million is a guesstimate for the seismic work on this particular building.

There is a simple concept at work in Old Town - without substantial public funding - the property owner will not invest (or be able to obtain private investment) unless he or she can recoup the investment. Catalytic projects don't work to stimulate private investment.

Across 3rd on the NE corner of Couch is the Estate Hotel which houses mostly the low to zero income, and in part, sexual predators on parole. I am sure the latter will welcome the grandeur of the couplet. As we come to the end of the virtual path - 2nd and Couch to Burnside - this is an area that is part of the 'entertainment district.'

Traffic flow from Burnside north on 2nd to Couch may well prove to be a major problem because of the flow of their patrons will conflict with a heavy flow of traffic. A reminder - on Couch - traffic will be 5 to 6 times its present volume.

This is the couplet in Old Town. The expenditure of 14 million [in 2006] tax increment funds to aid this project is ridiculous given the other needs of Old Town.

Is this the best way to spend public funds - making one street easier to cross while making another harder to cross? Who benefits?

©2006, 2010

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Its about time!

”Portland real estate investor Barry Menashe refuses to pay $50,400 city fee in protest of downtown campers | OregonLive.com.

The Oregonian had the story about Mr. Menashe. If you are downtown – it is unlikely that you have not seen the Menahe name. The gist of of the article is well said in the title.

I have always wondered why business people went along with the continuing payment for services that are deficient. Surely, the sentiment offered by Mr. Menashe is not a minority one.

Oregonian's Ryan Frank made a telling observation: ”Menashe, with a New York bravado in a largely genteel Portland business community, is the only major property owner protesting the fees. That can be put another way – Portlanders don't appreciate those who speak up – they want bobbleheaders.

"This year, the fees will pay for 17 security guards, three police officers and a cleaning crew of formerly homeless people, among other services. Kuykendall said the program cleans up 25,000 graffiti tags and 1 million cigarette butts a year, and has helped reduce downtown crime by 35 percent since 2005."

Mr. Kuykendall, Portland Business Alliance and friends protecting their shadow government. It is doubtful that the Portland Business Alliance's police department has reduced crime one percent. 35% reduction claim is laughable.
They have no arrest powers. They can only make a citizens arrest and those like the drug dealers and others know this. The best the security contingent offers is to move the miscreants on or to call the real police.
Merely because Mr. Menashe had the unmitigated gall to speak up – I doubt that he is alone in his concerns. And one knows that this is not his first note of complaint. Lest we forget too - property owners (directly) and tenants (indirectly) pay ordinarily property taxes for similar services.

© 2010

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Better Burnside Alliance

An organized opposition to the Burnside Couch Couplet (west side) has been formed to counter such couplet proponents as Friends of Burnside Couch. It appears to be small business based, rather than just property owners.

The Better Burnside Alliance is not just in opposition – they are offering alternatives and a means of providing a voice for those that do not see the Portland Department of Transportation (PDOT) proposal as an efficacious expenditure of public funds.

Check out their site. It just got started and it well done. It is an excellent way of becoming and being informed on this issue.

Also, see Bojack for a perspective on couplet proponents:
Mike Powell hits the neighbors up for money
Mike Powell's couplet posse

© 2010

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Oregon Parole Board – something just isn't right

Oregonian: "Richard Troy Gillmore denied parole; next hearing for jogger rapist in 2 years.”

 Tribune: ”Gillmore blames rapes on 'wounded inner child'.”

Gillmore is a sexual predator that continues to demonstrate that the parole board's action is too often a miscarriage of justice. It illustrates how the system advocates for the criminal to the detriment of the victims. The board turns justice on its head.

Certainly that seems true when it comes to sexual predators. The worst they are the more consideration is given to them. Maybe it is this hope, foolish hope, that a person like Gillmore can be rehabilitated. If someone as despicable as Gillmore is given such consideration – one wonders what is going one with other parolees that we don't hear about..

The Oregonian's editorial is right on point: "It's a cruel, embarrassing parade when a raped girl or young woman faces a future of showing up every two years to convince a civilian parole board that the beast of their lives -- often seated in the room or seen via live video feed -- is not as pious as he seems. If Gillmore is a serial rapist, his victims are by now serially victimized by the parole process.

It's time to stop it."

© 2010

Page filler

Oregonian: ”Fighter jet exercise to cause early morning noise at PDX”

It is so Portland. A noise management department and concern over noise by our national guard training.

A notice that fighter jets may cause some noise during a morning exercise seems nothing more than filling the insatiable Internet webpages. In the days of a print only version - this would have never seen the light of day.  

© 2010

Police foot patrols - political postering?

Oregonian: “Portland mayor and police chief to enhance patrols, victim services in wake of recent bias crimes”

Oregonian quote: “to establish a foot patrol so community members can be "the eyes and ears of the streets."”

So why does only the gay community get community policing? For years Old Town has requested police foot patrols to combat criminal activity.

Never happened.

© 2010

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Westside couplet -why?

Well for one reason – it will benefit Powell Bookstore. That's it. See the Portland Tribune for another take on the couplet.

There is nothing similar between the concept for the eastside and the westside. For the east side it makes a lot of sense commercially. They are starting from scratch in their Burnside Bridgehead project. Integrating the eastside couplet with the Bridgehead development now is reasonable from virtually any view point.

The west side – like or not – is fairly well developed. It is not easy nor inexpensive to integrate the couplet now. The point - if the couplet would have been put in as they did the Pearl development – it would have been a different story.

If one takes a look at W. Burnside from the bridge to 15th Avenue – the scaled down couplet proposed by Powell benefits his store only. It will destroy Couch Street and denigrate the value of the North Park Blocks at Couch.

Bojack had an interesting take: ”It's fascinating that Mike Powell, master of the Powell's Books empire, is pushing this so hard during so deep a recession, . . . . No doubt Powell wants some day to put a giant condo tower where his store is today, with the store preserved on the lower levels.“

In the park at Couch there is an excellent children's playgound as well as a great school. Take a walk (even a Google walk) through that area. Visualize trucks and buses on that street. Parking on one side or both would have to go. And put a streetcar on Couch – no parking is likely.

Like or not too W. Burnside is a major truck and bus street. A couplet forces buses, trucks, and cars onto Couch – a street not designed nor designated for that type of traffic. And where would Mr. Powell have the heavy traffic return to Burnside – at 14th or after crossing the freeway?

Mr. Powell continues to spread the myths about the dangerous intersections. It is pretty much BS that Mr. Powell and others like to spout without a critical analysis of the traffic data especially opting to leave out the dates of data collection. See my republished post ”W Burnside Couch Couplet”

Arguably, Mr. Powell hopes that by taking little steps he eventually will have the whole couplet in place. The original couplet plan (as modified) included a streetcar as well as an extension to 23rd.

There is little, most likely no, money available to do a west side couplet however scaled down. There are better ways for tax payer dollars to be spent, even though the city doesn't seem to realize it, e. g., spending $20 mil for bike lanes.

© 2010

The Couplet on the west side & republished posts

The west side Burnside Couch Couplet continues to rear its ugly head. Because some of my Old Town blog posting and much of the material that it referenced is no longer available on Oregonlive – I am republishing many of those posts and updating links. Although the republished posts are dated – circa 2007 – the arguments and much of the data is still the same. One thing for sure – the costs have increased.

This is a Sam Adams' project being carried over from his days as head of the Bureau of Transportation.   Planning director Gil Kelley was shown the door by Mayor Adams thus effectively eliminating reasonable opposition.

It is important to note this is about the west side couplet that would run through the Old Town and Pearl neighborhoods – something like between NW 2nd and NW 23rd via W Burnside and NW Couch.

The Couplet had been fairly well discussed 3 to 4 years ago. There were two separate aspects: an east side and a distinctively different west side couplet. It was treated separately in the discussions and materials. .

The eastside couplet is well on its way, but there is a world of difference between the two. Simply put – the eastside arguably makes sense if viewed in conjunction with the Burnside Bridgehead project – the west side doesn't make sense under any argument.

© 2010

Monday, June 14, 2010

Couplet: Couch at the Park Blocks

Couch street that traverses Pearl and Old Town neighborhoods is a street that is admittedly (by the city) not designed to carry the W Burnside traffic.

The image at the left is Couch at the Park Blocks. This part of the park has a great children's playground and the building on the left houses a school. [Click on the image.]

Redirecting the westbound Burnside traffic onto the street will destroy the value of this part of the park and its playground. It will transform a relatively vehicular safe area into an unsafe environment for a park.

Some proponents of the Burnside Couch Couplet argue that W Burnside (not Couch) is unsafe for pedestrians. To make it safe they want to take one direction (westward) of Burnside traffic (buses, trucks, including semi-trucks, cars) and send it westward on Couch. Thus, making Burnside safe (not really) and Couch unsafe. Smart move?

© 2010

Sunday, June 13, 2010

A look at W Burnside traffic stats

1st published on Oregonlive, Old Town Blog: Tuesday, April 03, 2007, 12:04 PM. Updated: Tuesday, April 03, 2007, 1:39 PM. Some editing and creating usable links].

Portland Tribune - has a front page article about car crashes. Inside there is a list of the ten most dangerous intersections from 2001 - 2006. W Burnside is nowhere to be found.

Now this should not come as a surprise. PDOT statistics for 2001 – 2004 High Collision Intersections shows SE Powell at 82nd Avenue (today's worst) as number 4 then. Look at the data and you will find the others of the ten worst in the 2001 - 2004 list.

It is not news - but they - media and PDOT - pretend it is. Does one ever wonder why PDOT collects data?

I have been speaking out, more against, the use of statistics in support of the Burnside Couch Couplet. At neighborhood meetings the 'shock troops' would be there to tout just how bad Burnside is and how the Couplet is the only apparent way to 'cure' the situation.

Most dangerous, 10 most dangerous, 6 most dangerous, etc. The labels continued to change slightly in attempt to use the data to their benefit. I wonder what new statistics they will find in their push for the Couplet.

In the article Commissioner Adams is quoted: "When I see concentration of injuries and accidents on specific roads, and when I know that with some specific moderate investments ... we can reduce the deaths [...]. I am going to focus on that."

What no couplet - no multi-million dollar project?

According to the Tribune's author - Todd Murphy - City Transportation officials also are studying changes to traffic-signal timing ....

Gee - what a novel approach.

© 2007, 2010

W Burnside Couch Couplet

There is no beef (in the statistics)

[1st published on the Old Town Blog: Thursday, March 29, 2007, 8:11 AM. Updated: Thursday, March 29, 2007, 8:15 AM. Some editing and creating active links.]

Recently [2007] I indicated that Portland Department of Transportation (PDOT) never provides safety statistics (in physical form) at their neighborhood appearances to justify the Burnside Couch Couplet in the Old Town portion. Safety is not their only rationale for the project - but it is a primary focal point.

It is clearly attention grabbing. Who can deny pedestrian safety? It is a flag waving approach. 

Look - I don't buy it and I don't think it well serves Portland. Transportation projects consuming massive public investment requires more justification. And, where there is opposition from within the city government (Planning Bureau) - it requires at a minimum statistics that demonstrate that their (PDOT) proposals resolve the issues with cost effective measures.

There are those - and I am one - that believe the process takes way too long - it never seems to stop. But, as long as they are asking for public input - I am willing to oblige. Now - I understand that in this Portland environment of pleasing neighborhoods - projects that would ordinarily not be justified under most circumstances - are not only proposed but completed. Fortunately - some are not.

I see the Couplet - only the west side portion - as a project not justified under any of their rationales. Partly because the rationale changes depending on the audience. Look - I don't see that there is a pedestrian safety issue, and even if it exists, the solution is not justified by the proposed expenditures and solutions advocated by PDOT. Cost effectiveness is a planning objective that is too often ignored.

Moreover, PDOT traffic safety statistics do not justify the cost expenditures. Where is the beef? It is not in their statistics. As mentioned - the statistics are no longer available on their website. But I had downloaded all of the pertinent ones before PDOT eliminated the links. AND - PDOT people have been very gracious in providing additional statistics on my request.

What follows is my take - I would encourage others to look at the statistics and come to their own conclusions. All traffic statistics referenced herein can be found here.

Several things are important. In reviewing the statistics - one needs to pay attention to the time period - what years and how many years are included. If one has the time to be diligent - some of the stats provide a breakout in individual years. Thus, one can view each year of the data set and determine the number of accidents and type within each year.

E.g., a brief review of the data will lead one to know that on W Burnside and NW 3rd that there has been a total of 9 Pedestrian Involved Crashes in a 10 year period. But, won't you have a different take on safety when it becomes known that 2 of the 10 years had 3 each, and these were in 2001 & 1995?

Second are the definitions. E.g. ranking of 'most dangerous' as is often publicly stated is based upon absolute numbers rather than calculated with traffic volume consideration. The Oregonian some time ago [2006] - at least a year ago - said that Burnside from East Burnside at 14th to West Burnside at 21st contain the highest concentration of "high collision" intersections.

PDOT's response to my inquiry on this: "The Oregonian requested high pedestrian crash locations, not a complete analysis of crash rate. Such an analysis would be difficult to perform based solely on pedestrian uses because the number of pedestrians using an intersection would also need to be known and Portland does not regularly gather such data.

Concentration of high collision intersections is simply number on the list in a given distance. For the distance considered, Burnside has a larger proportion of high collision intersections, but as with all statistics that is only what it is. A number over a distance."

Unfortunately - W Burnside is assumed, maybe presumed, to be unsafe, and, not only that, unsafe enough to justify the Couplet. Problem - no data makes that connection.

But if you look at the same 4 years - 2001 to 2004 - for W Burnside between NW 2nd & NW 14th - in the ranking for the City of Portland - the worst ranking out of 350 for any of the Old Town intersections is 91 - W. Burnside at 2nd. No one should find this surprising. The next worst rank is 272 - W. Burnside at NW 4th.

NW 2nd & W Burnside is a high incident intersection - dangerous? I don't think so. At that intersection - going east - no left (north) turn and no right (south) turn - NW 2nd is one way from south to north. Going west - on can make a right turn (north) and can make no other turn.

Since they - Couplet advocates - are redirecting all west bound traffic from the Burnside Bridge onto NW Couch - already a high collision intersection - can there be any doubt that collision rates will increase?

The third important factor is volume. E.g., if there are 6 accidents on one street but 10 on another street - is the 10 accident street more 'dangerous?' Isn't it not important to know the traffic volume? Comparing a high traffic volume on the 6 accident street to a low volume or even the same volume on the 10 accident street - which one - at least between the two - is the safest?

Thus, as some are want to do - stating a particular intersection has a high number, and therefore, attempting to draw the conclusion that the intersection is dangerous, is a misrepresentation to gain an advantage.

Serious indictment? Yeah - look - most people find themselves in the position of having to sit and nod their heads at meetings. Hey - they have family, full time job and most don't live in Old Town. Thus - absent a presentation of pros and cons - neighborhood people irrespective of their concern need to go along.

Isn't a presentation of pros and cons an ethical bare minimum?

The 4 year data noted above makes the point that presentation by public officials or their representatives ethically requires more than an adversarial approach. Looking at the data - the worst intersection - relatively speaking - #1 - NW Germantown Rd @ Skyline Blvd. The best (with volume data) is # 350 - NE Broadway @ Victoria Ave.

#1 - Total collisions = 35 with a volume of 6991; a rate of 3.68

#350 - Total collisions = 26 with a volume of 75047; a rate of .25.

Based on the data in this collection - couldn't I say that W. Burnside between 2nd and Park is the most safest? [2nd] 91, [3rd] 286, [4th] 272, [5th & 6th] not in the 350, [Broadway] 333, [8th & Park] not in the 350.

Granted 2nd is a little on the edge - but not the others. But - a comparison of crashes with volume is an apples to apples look at the data [PDOT].

Nothing in PDOT traffic statistics can justify the Burnside Couch Couplet on the west side on safety reasons alone. If one looks at the statistics and compare W. Burnside and NW Couch - the realization is that Couch is will become a major traffic street when it was not so designed and never has been so classified.

Shifting accident likelihood from one street to another is not a solution to any problem.

Recently, PDOT offered a couple additional views (charts) and I have attached them. Both were offered as proof that W Burnside is not safe. One speaks to percentages - but absent are the factors of determination. E.g., a high volume street like W. Burnside might well be expected to generate these statistics, and they might well be within the norm.

The City Wide Comparison chart (10 years) shows that W Burnside has 7.4% of the city wide pedestrian fatalities. Without more - is this high or low? Might have been nice to see the breakdown of all stats. As is - it is just a statement without meaning.

But look at the Downtown Comparison chart (10 years). Based on that depiction - W. Burnside appears safer. But, again without a breakdown - it might well depict a lack of pedestrian safety.

I will take this just a little further. Isn't it important to know that Burnside is a major traffic street? Burnside is designed to move traffic - bus - trucks - cars through. Isn't it important too to know that Old Town (&Pearl) is a pedestrian district. [See PDOT's Arterial Streets Classifications And Policies].

Bottom line is that unless a data set is produced as part of analysis to solve a problem - the use of such data is at best problematic. It is certainly a misrepresentation not to state the full data set and its elements. Otherwise - they are nothing more than numbers.

But even assuming that W. Burnside is unsafe - correcting safety problems with a sledge hammer approach is folly. How about traffic signaling? In my view - PDOT has done this and Burnside - today - is safe.

Haven't traffic statistics have become "safety statistics" and are used as a means to justify the desired ends. Not good.

I want to repeat again that the PDOT individuals that I have come into contact with are not being impugned by this post. They have responded to my inquiries and have taken the time to not only provide data files but to discuss these issues with me.

Reasonable people can reasonably disagree.

Other posts: (Some links within these posts may not work)

Burnside Couch Charter Review

Burnside Couch again and again

A look at W Burnside traffic stats

© 2007, 2010

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Morgan Building - downtown success story?

”Daily Journal of Commerce:” ”Historic Portland building boosts occupancy.”

The Journal had this piece about a rather substantial increase in commercial tenancy – from 75% to 85% - in the Morgan Building. It is located on SW Washington between SW Broadway and SW Park a mere block and ½ (depending on how one measures) from Pioneer Square. Max and the Streetcar lines are conveniently close.

The building occupies ½ of the block. It is assessed at $16 mil and has tax exemptions of $10 mil. Thus, property taxes are about $100k on an assessed value of $6 mil. [All numbers are approximate.]

This is a fine looking building from the outside. But, I seem to remember a couple of articles about tenants moving. Didn't a big restaurant chain move its headquarters from this building to the Pearl? Ah yes - McCormick & Schmicks.

One might wonder what incentives, if any, were offered. One wonders too whether the Portland Downtown Retail Strategy 2009 effected any part of the increase in occupancy? That is, did any public money (tax increment financing) or other incentives go into the redevelopment of the building?

The building location to public transit more likely demonstrates the ineffectiveness of public transit as a factor in development and redevelopment. The building and public transit have been in close proximity to each other for many, many years yielding no benefit to either. And there is little evidence to suggest that the addition of MAX on 5th and 6th has had any effect.

I have spent a many mornings into the afternoon drinking coffee just across from the building. It seems that the building had their vacancies for a might too long. It is in area too where there are many, too many, vacant storefronts.

However, the "increase for demand at the Morgan Building is due to the firm’s focus of sustainable management and the building’s proximity to public transit" doesn't seem to fit reality.

I am never quite sure what it means to say "sustainable management." But it is difficult to see how that alone would increase occupancy. And proximity to public transit has never been a meaningful factor. That building has been close to public transit for many years.

There is more to this "success" story isn't there?

© 2010

Monday, June 7, 2010

Tough love? Please.

Oregonian: ”Drunken driving in Oregon: Because all else fails, judges try tough love | OregonLive.com”

The piece by Susan Nielsen is one of those “liberal” concoctions that (however unintentionally) hypes a county government program as a success – those who graduate from the program don't re-offend - when there is no real "success" data. Don't put people in jail - reeducate them.

But, as one of her emails stated, these programs operated by non-profits are a scam. As someone who has “helped” people into other type of government diversion programs, e. g., domestic abuse, the “graduates” learned only how to graduate not reform.

The headline stated Oregon but in fact the story is about Multnomah County. She states this about that county's program: "Many repeat offenders in Multnomah County get the option to join DISP as an alternative to a longer jail sentence. More than 300 are in the program today, usually signing up after their third or fourth arrest. "

Tough love she says? They get repeated opportunities to kill someone - usually it seems not themselves. She states that “those who lie to the judge can face a swift trip to jail -- or up to a year behind bars for really messing up.”

How many people have messed up or lied to a judge and spent a year in jail?

Success story? "Nearly a quarter of participants get kicked out. However, people who do graduate have a much lower recidivism rate than their peers, according to court data: Only about 10 percent get a new DUII arrest within five years, compared to roughly one-third of the general population of DUII offenders."

Unless the originally enrolled "class" is included in the data - the "success" rate is nearly meaningless. This is a voluntary program that weeds out those unlikely to be a "success" story.

This is far from tough love. There is little, if any, success to be touted here except for the non-profits.

© 2010

Friday, June 4, 2010

Public funded venture capital

Oregonian: "Portland picks team to oversee $500,000 for the city's startups."

Mike Rogoway has an excellent article on the “team.” While it raises more questions than providing answers – that is good – it does point out the lack of thought that has gone into this plan for a public funded investment fund.

This team is to use $500k of city public funds as a catalysis for private investment in the fund. The team will hire an investment manager. One prospective fund manager is Oregon Entrepreneurs Network that "has spoken with the Oregon Growth Account [...] which manages a portion of state retirement funds."

Is this where one wants their pension fund dollars invested?

One wonders what good can come of a city government involvement in something so inherently part of the private sector? What is worse is that the Portland Development Commission is carrying the water.

Team composition immediately raises questions as to how these individuals were selected. E. g., what is a Michael Powell (Powell's Books) doing in this group? Where is his financial expertise in venture capital? And of course, will Mr. Powell and other “team” members get paid? Just how much will the investment manager be paid, and the administrative staff, etc?

"The dollars originate with the city's general fund, which allocates money each year for the PDC's economic development efforts." Is the $500k the ordinary city allocation to PDC? Will there be something that will not be funded because of this reallocation? Or is it just part of the dodge to get $500k in the hands of the investment team?

”State rules prevent the city from investing directly in private companies. So the city considered lending the money instead.” ”Now, though, the PDC has decided to grant the money to a new, self-perpetuating not-for-profit organization.” "Grant" as in no need to repay or make a return on the investment?

Thus, it is a dodge isn't it? Shifting money around to avoid the rule that the city can't directly fund the investment?

The $500k will have been spent before the first request. It seems that venture capital allocation is best left to the private sector that understands due diligence.

The city and PDC know how to give money away, but ROI is a foreign concept.

See Bojack's post of June 11, 2010.

© 2010