PDC stuck in limbo

In what has become a lengthy and complicated dispute, the tension is mounting between the Portland Development Commission and City Hall.

Mayor Tom Potter asked the PDC to halt progress on the Burnside Bridgehead project until he can review the process that the PDC pursued.

In a recent move, Potter individually contacted both Opus Northwest and Beam Development, approaching them with the compromise of sharing the development job “for the benefit of both companies, as well as for the benefit of the community,” said John Doussard, director of public relations in Potter’s office. Both companies have agreed to get together to talk about the possibility.

“It would be a terrific first step,” Doussard said. “The mayor doesn’t care about which developer gets this job. His responsibility is to make sure that the process is open, transparent and accountable.”

The PDC continues to be under fire from many community members for awarding the task of developing lower east Burnside in the Burnside Bridgehead project to Opus Northwest, LLC, overlooking the public favorite, Beam Construction and Management, LLC. The decision followed a seven-member citizen advisory evaluation and the committee’s recommendation to give the job to Beam.

“It appears that there was a predetermined outcome. That makes us very nervous,” Commissioner Randy Leonard said.

Many in City Hall think the explanations given by the PDC have failed to explain the rationale for overlooking the community’s recommendations. “We haven’t heard a valid excuse yet. What we’ve heard so far is just not compelling,” Leonard said. In addition, PDC Chair Matt Hennessee allegedly has business connections with Nathaniel Clevenger, a member of Opus Northwest, leading to allegations that the PDC had no intention of seriously considering Beam’s proposal.

Shortly after the unanimous vote for Opus Northwest was announced, President of Beam Construction and Management, Brad Malsin officially filed an appeal. The matter of who will hear that appeal remains undecided. The City Council has asked that the appeal be handed over to them, while the PDC argues they have no authority to hear it. The appeal is currently on hold as Potter reviews the case.

Leaders in City Hall are concerned by a perceived lack of transparency and forthrightness on the part of the PDC. As public pressure to intervene in the PDC has mounted, the City Council has responded, and the most forceful response has come from Leonard, who has proposed to abolish the PDC.

His plan would put a single City Council member in charge of a new organization, the Economic Development Bureau, which would be in charge of carrying out the sort of urban renewal projects PDC has handled in the past. City Council will consider his proposal will be considered by City Council June 15.

Leonard is not the only one interested in changing the PDC; Potter has also made clear his intention to look into how the PDC operates. As part of his 20 recommendations for the Bureau Innovation Project, he has identified the need to “Collaborate with the Portland Development Commission to Determine Common Goals, Clarify Roles and Responsibilities and Improve Public Involvement.”

Whether this will be enough for Leonard and others who are anxious to see a drastic change at PDC remains to be seen. Either way, change in the PDC is inevitable, as Executive Director Don Mazziotti’s term will end June 1, and Chair Matt Hennessee’s term will end July1.