Whirlwind ‘Prosperity Initiative’ leaves outer East Portland business districts with more questions than answers …

See why neighborhood and business leaders wonder if – and how, and when – these new East Portland tax-increment financed “mini Urban Renewal Improvement Districts” might pay off …

With another major store now shuttered – this Albertson’s unit, on SE Division Street – questions are plentiful about how the “Neighborhood Prosperity Initiative” can help areas like the Midway business district.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
Little notice was taken when the Portland City Council adopted a Neighborhood Economic Development (NED) strategy last May.

In late October, Portland Mayor Sam Adams rolled out the new Neighborhood Prosperity Initiative (NPI) at outer East Portland’s Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization (IRCO) on NE Glisan Street.

Portland Mayor Sam Adams travels to IRCO outer East Portland to announce the City’s new “Neighborhood Prosperity Initiative”. City of Portland image

“The NPI will focus investments in priority neighborhoods to boost neighborhood business growth, provide economic development opportunities, and improve community-wide prosperity,” announced Adams. “This initiative also implements key objectives outlined in the Portland Plan – the City’s strategy for a more prosperous, healthy, equitable Portland. Successful neighborhood businesses are the core of vibrant neighborhoods.”

This illustration shows the proposed NIP investment areas. PDC illustration

Along with NE 42nd Avenue and Cully Boulevard, these four additional outer East Portland areas would qualify for the program, Adams said:

  • Parkrose
  • Rosewood (primarily along SE 162nd, south of E. Burnside Street.)
  • SE Division Street (SE 124th to 148th Avenues)
  • SE Division Street and 82nd Avenue

“Therefore, the NPI will focus investments in priority neighborhoods to boost neighborhood business growth, provide economic development opportunities, and improve community-wide prosperity,” Adams proclaimed.

This group listens during the November 7 IRCO meeting to what is required for the “Rosewood” area to be a participant in the program.

Fast track program
When community and business leaders were invited to a special NPI “orientation” meeting on November 7, again at IRCO – many of them said they thought the purpose of the meeting was simply to learn more about it.

Instead, they learned, the meeting was to gain commitments from business district leaders to go forward with the program.

Very little about the program had been fleshed out, attendees learned, including the actual boundaries of the “Prosperity Initiative”.

What they did learn, among other things, was that the NPI areas would need to raise “community” funds for the program – somewhere between $15,000 and $30,000 per year, to participate.

Parkrose Business Association board members – incoming President Judy Kennedy of Pacific Northwest Federal Credit Union, Alison Stoll representing Central Northeast Neighbors, Wayne Stoll from Century Associates, and Michael Taylor – study the requirements necessary to apply for a NPI.

Also revealed was that a completed NPI application package was due in to the PDC by January 31, including:

  • Letter of Interest;
  • Potential “investment boundary adjustments”;
  • Contact information for five to 10 community leaders committed to participate in leadership training and district development;
  • Community leaders will devote at least 20 volunteer hours per month, per person;
  • Identification of organizing entity to oversee investments, such as an existing organization.

In the case of the area primarily served by the Midway Business Association (MBA), non-profit organization Human Solutions – primarily known for helping homeless families find housing –offered to be the organizing entity.

By February 27, groups seeking to participate need to produce commitment letters indicating $3,000 has been raised for their NPI area; and, an outline of proposed action plan to “strengthen the business district’s economic competitiveness”.

Jean DeMaster of Human Solutions, David Edwards from Edwards Insurance Agency, Lori Boisen of Advertise in the Bag, and Annette Mattson, from Portland General Electric and Chair of the David Douglas School District, are studying NPI information at the IRCO meeting.

Plan discussed by Midway Business Association
In addition to starting to develop plans to raise $3,000, members and leaders of the MBA – the business district serving southern outer East Portland – wrestled with other questions, including

  • Defining the “overall vision” for the district;
  • Goals for the district;
  • Activities to accomplish the goals; and,
  • Potential benchmarks for success.

Human Solutions’ executive director, Jean DeMaster, led the discussion about creating a NPI program for Midway’s service area.

“Because we serve many people in outer East Portland – and our offices are located on SE Powell Boulevard, just east of SE 122nd Avenue – we are interested in working with this program,” DeMaster began.

DeMaster said few specifics were available at the November 7 meeting. However, their group’s facilitator agreed the area could be expanded west, to cover SE Division from SE 119th to 148th Avenues.

At the November Midway Business Association meeting, Jean DeMaster tells what they learned about the NPI program.

“We’re not clear if the MBA service area extends east of SE 148th Avenue,” DeMaster added.

After talking about the steps (outlined above) required to participate in the program, DeMaster commented that approved NPI programs would be assigned a PDC staff person to help them submit a complete proposal by the January deadline.

While the NPI doesn’t include “tax abatements” or “set-asides for housing”, folks at the meeting wondered aloud how the plan was being financed, and concluded it was “tax increment financing”.

DeMaster agreed, “”If approved, form a coalition group, and work to increase commerce and get new business into the area. Thus, there will be a tax increment.”

Each of the NPI areas can “vision” their program in the way the feel will best benefit the area, DeMaster added.

Powellhurst-Gilbert Neighborhood Association president Mark White listens thoughtfully to information about the proposed program and its effect on the area.

Notes of caution voiced
“The City is good about doing what is easy, not necessarily what is best,” pointed out Powellhurst-Gilbert Neighborhood’s President Mark White, who is also a candidate for Portland City Council. “Because it is financed by future taxes, we need to make sure we’re building a ‘solid foundation’ for economic growth – not just pitching pennies at, or ‘applying Band-Aids’ to, deeply rooted economic issues in the area.”

While a $4 million NPI fund is sizable, White said, “It’s difficult to see how this will solve our economic problems here.”

White pointed out that tax-abated, low-income housing has burgeoned in the area. “When many area residents don’t have money to spend, stores close – like the Albertsons at SE 122nd Avenue, and the Safeway at SE 162nd Avenue. What’s needed here are businesses that offer well-paying jobs.”

Continuing, White charged, “My experience, watching the Lents Urban Renewal District for the last 14 years, is that the City tends to use the funds like a ‘piggy bank’ for other [unrelated] projects.”

Finally White concluded, “The real caution is when you hear this is ‘community driven’. If it is so ‘community driven’, way didn’t they hold a process to find out where these districts should be located, before they started this program?”

Folks at the MBA meeting listen and discuss how funds for an NPI program could be raised.

Fundraising begins
MBA vice president David Edwards, of Edwards Insurance Agency, said the group plans to look to banks, and national companies such as Fred Meyer, to contribute to the NPI program, that he characterized as in this mini-improvement district.

“If we are successful in our efforts, it will help make businesses thrive and draw people to the district,” Edwards said.

To learn more about the PDC Neighborhood Economic Development program, see their website: CLICK HERE to open that page.

© 2011 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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