The Portland Development Commission will set aside up to $19M for the University of Oregon to move to the ‘Made in Oregon’ block.
By Kennedy Smith
The White Stag Block, home to four dilapidated buildings and the landmark “Made in Oregon” sign that overlooks the Burnside Bridge, likely will be the new home of the University of Oregon’s Portland Center.
Three of five members of the Portland Development Commission on Wednesday approved a resolution to set aside $19 million in new market tax credits toward renovation of the building, a project that would cost up to $31.6 million, according to Art DeMuro, president of Venerable Properties, the development company that is working with the university on the renovation and expansion project.
“If we do not act on this, they may be able to acquire (a different) building, but our hope is to get this done by Feb. 1,” John Moseley, senior vice president and provost of the University of Oregon, told the PDC board.
“In the end,” Moseley said, “we think that while there are concerns about the current state of the neighborhood, people at U of O are excited about the location, accessibility, visibility and revitalization of the neighborhood.”
The neighborhood is home to the Portland Rescue Mission at 111 E. Burnside St., the Union Gospel Mission at 222 NW Couch St., and the Blanchett House at 340 NW Glisan St. and has become a haven for many homeless Portlanders.
Larry Norton of the Old Town Chinatown Neighborhood Association said he supported the proposed University of Oregon project, which “may be a catalyst for the neighborhood,” he said.
“There may be other ways to fix that area,” Norton said, “but I can’t imagine one project that could change the neighborhood so quickly.”
UO would leave Portland Center
Venerable Properties would be the owner, landlord, developer, leasing agent and property manager of three buildings it seeks to buy and renovate: the Wexler Building at 25 NW Naito Parkway; The Monchalin at 30 NW First Avenue and the White Stag Building at 5 NW Naito Parkway.
The development company is in negotiations to buy the buildings from the Bill Naito Co.
James Pettinari, an architecture professor for the University of Oregon, said he has reservation about the White Stag acquisition project, which would relocated the university’s graduate-level architecture program from its current home at downtown’s Portland Center.
“We have had an established architecture program here for 10 years, located at the Portland Center,” he said. “We really like where we are. It’s very convenient to be right downtown and near the MAX, near almost all of the architects in the state of Oregon.”
Pettinari said the Eugene campus isn’t keeping the Portland extension very informed as to what is going on with the likely move, but he expects more meetings with administration to get “fairly specific” about details.
“We’ve known for a long time the university is looking for space,” he said. “It’s growing, and we have more students, more programs that want to come up from Eugene.”
Moseley, the university provost, said that the Eugene campus has been working “closely” with administration in Portland, taking various deans of programs on tours of possible relocation sites and working out three-, 10- and 20-year projections.
The planned relocation would move the university’s Portland operations from their current location at 722 SW Second Ave. and expand three programs: architecture, journalism and law.
The university also intends to add service programs like a career center, a foreign exchange and a continuing education program, consolidate some of its administrative programs and add a library, food center, theater, bookstore and gallery.
The renovation of the three buildings would include an additional 45,000 square feet available for lease.
New Market Tax Credits would fund renovation
According to a PDC report, Venerable Properties has applied for a $2.5 million seismic loan and $125,000 in grants for facade improvements from the Development Commission that would be covered in the fiscal year 2005-2006 budget for the Downtown Waterfront Urban Renewal Area.
During the Wednesday commission meeting, David Davies, a project manager with the PDC, stressed that time was of the essence and that a decision on the White Stag property was needed that day.
The university, working with Venerable Properties, had signed a letter of intent to purchase a building at 511 NW Broadway –the current home of the Portland branch of the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement Department and a site being eyed by the Portland Public Market for possible relocation–and had only until Feb. 10 to submit a proposal, which DeMuro described as a backup plan in case the commission rejected the request.
However, board Chairman Eric Parsons and Commissioners Doug Blomgren and Bertha Ferran gave their “full support” to the project, while Commissioner Mark Rosenbaum sat out because of a conflict of interest.
Rosenbaum is an ex officio member of the board of directors of the Portland Family of Funds, a managing member of the Portland New Markets Fund I LLC, which received an allocation of $100 million in new market tax credits from the US Treasury. New market tax credits would go toward the White Stag renovation.
Board member Sal Kadri was absent and unable to vote because of a glitch in the phone system, according to Elissa Gertler, a spokeswoman for the PDC.
PDC statue states that the resolution won’t go into effect for 30 days because only three members voted, but Parsons assured DeMuro and Moseley that they have “clear direction to move forward.”
As for what will happen to the university’s current Portland Center home, the university hasn’t made a decision on whether it will sell or lease the building.