The Portland Development Commission (PDC) is preparing to hand over the empty lot at Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard and Alberta Street to an out-of-town development company, Majestic Realty, owned by a family of billionaires. The proposed sale price? $500,000 – less than twenty percent of what PDC says the land is worth. This billionaire clan and its team, in the proposal that commissioners tomorrow will consider for approval, will build two buildings, one housing a ‘national grocery chain’ and the other for small businesses.
I’ve been hearing for weeks that the grocer will be Trader Joe’s – not a great addition to the boulevard, not a terrible one. Traffic will be an issue; nearby businesses are excited by the proposal, especially the owners of the Vanport business condominiums just to the north of this lot – they hope for integration with the new development, and more business and foot traffic for all to share in an improving environment.
Predatory MegaCorps are not unknown at the intersection of MLK and Alberta – Pizza Hut and 7-11 Corp. have sunk their teeth into properties across the street in the past couple of years – but never before has the city’s development team offered to hand over a central square of inner North/Northeast to an non-local company, one that needs to receive this parcel of land for next-to-nothing, despite being run by a CEO (whose family owns Majestic) whose net worth is estimated at 3.7 BILLION dollars and is said to be one of the 400 wealthiest people in the entire world.
The proceeds from the sale of the Vanport lot at this intersection will be put into the Interstate Urban Renewal Area – with less money coming in, there will be less development that the city can spur in the area; less livability grants; and less neighborhood control over what happens to our part of town. And isn’t that what capital (with a big C) and its cronies in city hall want – for the residents of Portland to shut up, and shop? This deal is explicitly a trade-off – the city agrees to invest less revenue in overseeing development on the community’s terms (insofar as PDC is at all willing to listen to residents any more); and instead gives the money to folks who already waddle from fat stacks of cash stuffed into every pocket and greasy crevice on their bodies.
We have a mayor who openly celebrates gentrification; for him, residents are only of value to the city if they have money to burn. We have a development commission which now makes secret deals to give away public land to national corporations who specialize in draining off local wealth and putting it in the pockets of the Roski family. Majestic Realty’s CEO, Ed Roski’s current wet dream is to build an stadium for a future National Football League in Los Angeles – never mind the concussions, brain damage, and suicides; like neighborhoods, like our neighborhood, football players are only assets to lock up in contracts, and then drain dry.
Whatever the details of the deal turn out to be – and we don’t know yet, because of PDC’s secrecy to date – this deal is bad for Portland. We deserve to regain local control of our economic development, rather than willingly cede control to strangers who do not care about us. Tomorrow the PDC commissioners decide whether to give away our central piece of undeveloped commercial land, and then they announce their decision. They will try to spin it as a favor to us – a boon to local development, an end to the putative food desert in the area, a grocery store that the neighborhood has long panted for – but in the end, this is a dirty deal done dirt cheap. Portlanders will be paying the price for years to come, and over time that price will grow to something much stiffer than the two million dollars the PDC is offering Majestic.