Hales ‘bullish’ on plan to buy post office land

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PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — The City of Portland is considering buying 14 acres of prime downtown real estate in what Mayor Charlie Hales sees as a “turning point” where Portland can plan for the future.

The Northwest Portland location where the US Postal Service complex now sits is the spot where Hales believe development is worth risking taxpayer dollars.

The real estate would cost about $80 million, but the total price tag for buying the land, relocating the post office, creating park space and affordable housing could rise to at least $115 million.

“The stakes become higher when you’re talking about a project of this magnitude,” said Portland Development Commission Director Patrick Quinton.

Portland Mayor Charlie Hales delivered his State of the City address, Jan. 30, 2015 (KOIN 6 News)

But the mayor is ready to go.

“I think the excitement you hear in my voice and others who are working on this is, we think, this opportunity really is now,” Hales told KOIN 6 News.

During a 90-minute discussion this week, Councilman Steve Novick asked the obvious question.

“We know what people are going to say if we do this,” Novick said. “They are going to say your streets are crumbling. You have a homeless crisis. You are spending $80 million on a post office.”

To get it done the city would also have to borrow from the general fund — which pays for services like parks, police and fire.

Union Station in Portland, August 4, 2015 (KOIN)

“This is about the prospect of finally, after talking about it for decades, getting the post office to a place that makes sense, out by the airport, perhaps,” Hales said.

“It no longer makes sense to be where the trains delivered the mail. That is why it is located where it is,” he said, “and redeveloping that land to accommodate jobs and housing instead of trying to accommodate all those jobs and housing in our neighborhoods, I’m very bullish on that prospect.”

The mayor said if the city buys the land they get to decide things like affordable housing, jobs and public spaces. He compares the investment and the risk to what was done in the Pearl District.

“We’ve been here before where Portland is at this kind of turning point, and the choice is just drift along and let the real estate market have its way with us — or plan for the future we want and leverage our way to get there.”

The PDC has come up with a financing plan that they say would allow them to spend money on the post office project and other planned projects, such as investing in Old Town.

But the City Council is already asking about rearranging priorities. The council will take up the issue again in October.

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