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Portland City Council backs Sustainability Center

The Portland City Council voted 3-2 today to move forward with its portion of the Oregon Sustainability Center – an ambitious $61.7 million living building planned for downtown Portland.

Portland Mayor Sam Adams and city commissioners Randy Leonard and Dan Saltzman supported a resolution to move forward with the city’s portion of financing for the development, but commissioners Amanda Fritz and Nick Fish voted no.

“Every project carries risk, but this is a sustainability building, and I have yet to be convinced that this is financially sustainable,” said Fish.

Fish said he’s concerned that the city is accepting 50 percent of the development risk for a 25 percent ownership stake. He also questioned whether planners should assume that there will be tenants willing to pay the higher cost per square foot to lease space in the building.

The vote followed two hours of testimony and discussion about the virtues of the triple net-zero building concept, which supporters say would become a model of sustainability for other cities to follow and an economic driver for Oregon’s green building and technology sectors. The Sustainability Center would generate all its own energy, collect and treat all of its water on site and produce no carbon dioxide emissions.

The question that seemed to be running through the debate at City Hall this morning was: How much short-term financial risk is the city willing to take on for potential long-term environmental and economic sustainability?