The economy must be picking up again, because the focus in Portland has shifted from hanging on for dear life to Utopian exercises in rebuilding. There are now three redevelopment projects in the works midway between my home and my office, and each has potential. Taken as a whole, they could provide a nice boost to a job market that needs all the help it can get. Or they could represent the latest in a series of misguided attempts to use public money to create private-sector jobs.
In addition to the Blazers and Nike and their compelling ideas for turning the Rose Quarter into JumpTown, the Portland Development Commission is also dusting off two long-delayed proposals to upgrade under-used chunks of land near the Willamette River.
The first project involves the old Centennial Mills waterfront property, between the Fremont and Broadway Bridges downriver from Union Station. I’ve read the project proposal from developer LAB Holding LLC of Costa Mesa, Calif., and I have to say that other than the excessively cute quotes praising food, I am impressed. The idea is to connect the Pearl District with the river through a mix of food market stalls, gardens, retail shops, kayak rentals, restaurants, galleries, a culinary school and offices. A pedestrian bridge would span SW Naito Parkway. An amphitheater would face the river. There are plans for an orchard, a grain garden, a greenhouse, even a tree-house and an outdoor fireplace. No one can accuse this team of lacking ideas.
The annual business summit that brings together hundreds of the state’s business, political and civic leadership has been cancelled this year after seven consecutive summits. “We have decided to take a year off,” said the Oregon Business Plan's steering committee in an announcement Nov. 13.
“In these difficult and uncertain economic times, we want to 1) continue to promote implementation of the work already proposed in the Business Plan and 2) take a fresh look at the plan and its initiatives to bring to the Leadership Summit in December 2010," the committee said.
That summit would come after the general election, where the state will elect a new governor. The state’s business community has made no secret about how unhappy it is over Gov. Ted Kulongoski’s signing into law this past Legislative session tax increases on businesses and the incomes of wealthy Oregonians. Businesses led the drive to bring the measures to a vote in a Jan. 26, 2010, special election.
If you’re among those who love the Trail Blazer’s idea to redevelop the area around Memorial Coliseum into a mixed-use sports and entertainment district, this news won’t make you happy. Almost half the respondents to this week’s poll question about the JumpTown redevelopment idea say it would be a waste of taxpayer’s money.
“Imagine JumpTown” is a campaign for what should happen to the neighborhood around the coliseum. This past week, the city of Portland started accepting concept applications and the Trail Blazers are pushing their idea with a new website called Imagine: JumpTown. Portland Mayor Sam Adams is asking for public input on projects for the area.
One resident writing in the Oregonian calls the JumpTown idea a sad legacy for urban renewal: “Forty-five years on, the Rose Quarter dead zone feels like urban renewal chickens coming home to roost. If public money is ‘essential’ to JumpTown's success, perhaps the city should think about spending instead where people actually live — maybe just to the north in the remnants of the original JumpTown.”
To most people, cheerleading and marketing don't often go hand-in-hand, other than using pep rallies and bake sales to promote the high school team. Which could be why it was so interesting to hear Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders director Kelli Finglass talk about how she built the cheer team – first conceived simply as an outreach arm for the Cowboys – into a world-famous business brand that sells everything from throw blankets to yoga DVDs.
Finglass spoke at a luncheon this week for the local American Marketing Association chapter, held at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Northeast Portland. Finglass herself was a Cowboys cheerleader from 1984 to 1989; she was eventually brought on as assistant director and later worked in sales and promotions for the Cowboys franchise before being hired as DCC director by Cowboys owner Jerry Jones. But the cheerleaders weren’t always an international presence; in fact, before Finglass took the job, the team was operating at a deficit, and moving the team out of the red was one of Finglass’ first challenges as director. But she succeeded in making them profitable, eventually introducing branded items like calendars to promote the team's image and establishing dance camps and competitions — all to expand revenue streams for a group that wasn't originally intended to be a money-maker.
But with the new branding opportunities came the temptation to over-sponsor and slap the cheerleaders' logo— also redesigned under Finglass — on everything. "I was very cautious, which made it a little harder for me as a brand-new marketer to figure out ways that we could create revenue without compromising the mission of the cheerleaders," Finglass said. And when she tried reaching out to Mattel to make a Barbie doll modeled after the cheerleaders, she was denied for years because the company still didn't think the team had a national appeal. It wasn't until Finglass helped the team get its own Country Music Television reality show that a Barbie designer finally took notice two years ago; the resulting DCC doll sold out nationwide in three days. In addition to watching the cheerleaders establish themselves as go-to USO entertainers, Finglass considers the Barbie deal her biggest DCC brand achievement, especially when she looks back at the thick file of denial letters from Mattel.
Andrew Revkin, the great environmental writer for The New York Times, was in town last night, and once I got over his nearly unforgivable mistake of referring to Oregon as “Ore-a-Gone,” I had to admit he had some compelling things to say. One line that stuck with me in particular was, “We don’t have time on Planet Earth for impeded potential.”
My first internal response was, what do you mean we don’t have time for impeded potential? That’s like saying there’s no time for procrastination. Anybody who writes for a living can tell you that there is always time for procrastination.
Take the Rose Quarter: 35 acres in the heart of the city, with two major entertainment venues next to a busy transit station. The place should be hopping 365 days a year, right? It should be as much of a part of the Portland fabric as are the Blazers.
The last time I visited Independence was on a cold morning three years ago, the day after Boise Cascade announced the closure of its veneer mill. The mayor and the city manager greeted me with coffee and optimism. When I returned recently, the optimism and coffee were still flowing.
The tiny city (2.3 square miles) on the west bank of the Willamette River has for the past three years been doggedly pushing on its economic development plans, and Mayor John McArdle and City Manager Greg Ellis seemed unbowed by the bad economy, job losses or high unemployment. The longtime mayor and Ellis were full-steam ahead on many fronts. “We’re not immune,” says the hard-charging McArdle. “We’re not Pollyanna. But it doesn’t pay dividends to say, ‘Woe is me.”’
Three years ago, the eight-screen movie theater had yet to open, the fate of the Boise site was unknown, the historic downtown struggled with vacancies, and the need for jobs was huge. Like many small, rural Oregon towns, the poverty levels were and are high.
It really doesn’t matter if the GDP, the local economists, the national pundits or your barber is telling you the recession is over. Most of you don’t think it is. In our latest poll, over 60% of the respondents said they don’t believe the recession is over.
"I think the recession is over," UO economist Tim Duy told the Oregonian this week, while “gazing past his young daughter … into sparkling waves off Hawaii.”
Nice work if you can get it, but many Oregonians can’t find a job and the state’s unemployment is among the highest in the nation. Duy and others also like to call this a jobless recovery.
The recession is hitting Oregon’s nonprofit sector hard. The Oregon Community Foundation’s midyear report on giving trends released this week shows that most of the 134 Oregon charitable nonprofits surveyed are under some degree of financial stress. It didn’t vary much from the report earlier this year from OCF.
The situation mirrors the national picture. According to the Chronicle of Philanthropy, the nation’s 400 largest charities expect giving to drop by a median of 9% this year.
The OCF report doesn’t come as a surprise, given that foundations have lost equity in their funds; businesses are struggling to survive, while many have gone under; and the personal pocketbooks of all Oregonian have been pinched.
The Rose Quarter lies roughly halfway between my home and my office, and every time I roll past I wonder how such a prime piece of urban property can manage to be so very lame, in so many ways. Where are the quirky cafes, the funky breweries, the dance halls and the music clubs, the bike shops and the pool halls? Nothing but chain restaurants and endless parking lots: visionary urban planning circa 1975. This is not the Portland I know and love. It makes sense for the city and the Blazers to redevelop the quarter into something that reflects the soul of the city, because there’s really nowhere to go but up. The neighborhood just hasn’t been the same since it got bulldozed.
J.E. Isaac, the Blazers’ senior VP of Business Affairs, has a name for the neighborhood to come: JumpTown, a “green, vibrant and economically viable Rose Quarter.”
Can’t argue with that. But how to get there?
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