Three candidates for Portland Mayor faced off on OPB’s Think Out Loud Thursday, in a conversation that covered public safety, the Interstate bridge replacement, and Portland’s approach to economic development.
All the candidates were asked whether the city should wrap up obligations to some urban renewal districts.
Candidate Eileen Brady said she thinks the city needs to move beyond its traditional reliance on tax increment financing deals, which have left Portland with heavy bond obligations.
Brady proposed forming an economic development corporation, similar to something the Portland Development Commission is researching. She says this body would put together a portfolio of the city’s real estate and manage it, using revenue for urban renewal projects.
“This is exactly what I think the difference between the old thinking and new thinking is. At some level we have to rethink government. We can’t just rely on the same revenue sources. We have to have some revenue sources the city can generate itself,” Brady said.
Candidate Charlie Hales said he didn’t think the city should extend its reach in that way. He says the private sector can perform the same function better.
Jefferson Smith, another mayoral hopeful, called for more transparency with future urban renewal zones.
Portland’s methods of kick-starting development also came under scrutiny in the roundtable discussion.
Hales — a former City Commissioner — said he supports some use of urban renewal, but he feels the city has overused it in recent years.
“The current administration has rolled over Urban Renewal Districts instead of sunsetting them. The whole point of urban renewal is you take a place like what was Hoyt Street yards, you make it into the Pearl District, and then you put it back on the tax rolls,” Hales said.
Hales says the extension of tax deferrals in the Pearl District is costing Portland Schools $7.5 million.
Brady and Smith agreed the city should not have rolled over some key urban renewal districts. Smith said he thinks any future districts should be set up to benefit a development plan for the city.
Brady added she’d like to see the city expand into some new revenue streams to find economic development money.
Smith fielded a question about which projects should be a top priority for the new mayor.
“We have to be skeptical about a project like the Columbia River Crossing, like the Sustainability Center and thinking there’ll be a whole bunch more money coming down from trees to apply to new projects. I think key questions around the Rose Quarter include moving it to a mixed-use direction. I think they also include seeing the whole picture,” Smith said.
Smith said the city has to question the management structure of the Rose Quarter and Memorial Coliseum, and whether new initiatives would overburden nearby road and infrastructure, leaving the city on the hook for more spending.
Brady took a more aggressive tone on development. She said it’s imperative the city increase its tax base by facilitating more redevelopment.
Hales said re-development of the Rose Quarter has to include business tenants, naming Columbia Sportswear as one he’d like to see move to the Rose Quarter.
The entire conversation can be heard Thursday evening at 9 p.m. on OPB Radio and will be one OPB TV Friday night at 9 and is archived online on the Think Out Loud website.