Up Sucker Creek

Up Sucker Creek
Photo Courtesy of the Lake Oswego Library

Saturday, October 10, 2015

How would you spend $70 million of TIF debt?

High fives to Lake Oswegans who rejected fluff and chose substance.

Although I was tempted, I did not attend a session in City Hall where citizens weighed in on which urban renewal projects should go to the top of the list to claim the remaining urban renewal funds in the Downtown Redeveloment District.

With $70 million in available debt burning a hole in the city's pocket (think maxing out a credit card), having to budget for which candy in the candy store to purchase was tricky.  Everything looked good.  But 16 choices?  Oh my!

Since I wasn't there, I can only assume that "None of the above" was not one of the choices.  Even if urban renewal did some good in the '80s and '90s, the jump start for rejuvenation downtown has been accomplished.

Debt incurred for urban renewal using tax increment financing is paid back with money that would otherwise be used for city services.  Thursday's LO Review reported that PERS contribution rates will be going up this biennium, putting an even bigger strain on the city budget.  If no personnel or services are cut, the city will be in deficit spending mode in a year or two, even without the additional PERS expense.

The City Council, acting as the Lake Oswego Redevelopment Agency on Tuesday night, agreed with the argument made by Redevlopment Director, Brant Williams that adding the WEB property to the Lake Grove Urban Renewal District would increase revenue so much that the city could pay off their bonds and close down the district sooner.  For downtown, the opposite seems to be true;  don't use excess money to pay off bonds, but spend the maximum amount allowed on projects that don't qualify as necessities and citizens may not want.  What does this approach tell you what might be in store for Lake Grove in the years to come?

Back to the meeting.  Judging from the list published in the Review, the citizens present at the meeting rated infrastructure and business projects as highest priority, and the redevelopment projects as the lowest.  I suggest that citizens request the city turn part of the second floor of City Hall into meeting spaces with the new police building is done.  The city can also rent space in existing buildings for public use - all the benefits of ownership without the hassle of maintaining and staffing a public facility that pays no taxes!

I keep meaning to put together a map of downtown showing all the property the city has purchased and converted to other uses, and all of  the projects past and future that were/are subsidized by public funds.  The amount of downtown property that has been directly transformed by government is simply astounding.  The city should have gotten out of the real estate business a long time ago.


I am continually confounded when people state a preference for mixed-use development, though it sounds like reaction here was mixed.  Perhaps fans ought to go to Portland to see how it is working  there.  Mississippi Ave. looks like it's filled with new-era prison blocks dressed up to look cool, but no matter, they still have no parking.  Do any of these fans live within 5 blocks of the Downtown Redevelopment District, or does the idea just sound good because it's "in"?

As always, let your City Council know what you think.  A list of projects can be found in the Redevelopment Plan on the city website in the Redevelopment Agency (LORA) department, and reported in the October 2, Lake Oswego Review.

What's next for downtown?
The city asks, the community for answers - tentatively
Lake Oswego Review,  October 8, 2015 By Saundra Sorenson

On Sept. 30, attendees got a quick history lesson: The East End Redevelopment Plan, originally adopted in 1986, was updated in February and provides a list of urban renewal projects ranging from infrastructure upgrades to property acquisition, with a total estimated cost of $70 million.

Seven projects are currently underway, but the plan identifies 16 more on a wish list that includes a transit center, a boutique hotel and a variety of street improvements and beautification efforts.

Although 30 people may not be a perfect sampling size, attendees provided city staff with the following priority measurements:

High Priority

Investing in/upgrading existing buildings
Attracting more specialty retail to downtown
Cresting more indoor public space and gathering places

Medium Priority

General street improvements
Public parking

Low Priority

Public plazas
Office space
Redevelopment projects

Mixed-use housing with retail had an equal split of high and low priority votes.

The Redevelopment Agency plans to submit a summary of public feedback to the LORA board during its next meeting on Dec. 1.

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