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3 Ideas From City Leader On Easing Portland's Makers' Space Crisis

Portland City Commissioner Nick Fish has spent many years working on the built environment — primarily in affordable housing, but also on urban development.

"If we lose artists and creatives, we'll never get them back," says Fish.

"If we lose artists and creatives, we'll never get them back," says Fish.

Courtesy of Commissioner Nick Fish

He’s also fluent in arts issues, as Council’s liason to the Regional Arts and Culture Council. We sat down with him to talk about what’s happening at Towne Storage and other parts of the Central Eastside Industrial District (CEID).

On the ripple effect of large-scale projects like the Burnside Bridgehead:

“The council working with the Planning Bureau has tried to strike a delicate balance. Everyone said the right things about wanting to protect makers, and the creative class, and not have the Central Eastside become the Pearl District. There’s a lot of talking points. The question is to what extent can government resist market forces? Do we have enough tools in our kits to make sure this really is a mixed income district and protects the creative class?”

On addressing the scarcity of maker space, both commercial and residential:

“The fundamental problem the city faces is a shortage of available units. What I want to see is a substantial increase in public funding. That starts by taking urban renewal dollars — above 30 percent — and investing them. We could probably find $70-75 million more over the next five years. We are seeing such a steady decline in erosion of support from the federal government and the state, and even our urban renewal districts, that we really have to get serious about a new dedicated funding source. The time has come to have a big coalition at the ballot box next year, put something before the voters that gives us a huge infusion of new dollars. I think there are a couple of very promising ideas being kicked around.

“(Next year) there are six seats up for election between the county and the city. That provides a lot of profile for this issue. I think the timing works in our advantage.In addition, I think we have to be more creative with our existing tool kit, to encourage certain kinds of things in the private sector. Commissioner Saltzman has proposed, and I support voluntary incentive zoning for downtown buildings. We’re going to change our code and say if you want to get a little more height, you have to agree to build affordable housing on site or put money in a trust fund. I think that’s a really good idea.”

On a recent zoning change that adjusted who is considered a manufacturer in the Central Eastside Industrial District:

“I wasn’t here for the final vote. I do know the folks on the east side work really hard to find a balance. I hope we got it right. If we didn’t, it’s gong to have repercussions. The Central Eastside is a very special place.  It’s a unique area where people priced out of other parts to the city could do their business. If we gentrify and displace people that we’re counting on to continue to help us be a capitol city for art and culture, that’s a disaster for our long-term viability, our economy, and maybe more importantly, for the reasons people move here and live here.”

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