The Portland Development Commission has a parking problem.
The agency has committed to spending $32 million in taxpayer provided urban renewal funds to build an obsolete-on-arrival valet-only hotel parking garage which is steps away from a MAX station. That project’s price tag has increased by $6 million dollars before construction has even started, casting doubt on PDC’s already shaky projections that the garage would generate a $500,000/year profit.
An additional $5 million in PDC money is earmarked to upgrade another parking garage, the 10th and Yamhill SmartPark Garage, in a project that will likely lead to the displacement of several existing businesses in the city core. Another $3 million dollars is budgeted to secure resources to build district parking garages in the Central Eastside Industrial District, building the parking itself will surely cost many more millions.
The fact that these projects are at odds with the city’s climate action and transportation goals should be enough reason for Mayor Ted Wheeler to initiate a change in strategy, but a report PDC delivered to the Planning and Sustainability Commission reveals more problems.
PDC’s parking obsession hinders it’s ability to deliver on it’s strategic goals to advance social and economic equity and support a vibrant central city. PDC commissioned a policy impact calculator from ECONorthwest to “help PDC and its partners understand potential financial impacts to PDC’s development activities and to help PDC respond to the new policy environment” which includes: inclusionary zoning (IZ), new green building requirements, system development charges for parks, and a construction excise tax. The calculator was used to conduct pro forma analysis on 5 prototype projects.
Included in these prototype developments is a potential affordable housing project and parking garage in Old Town. This prototype project would contain 3 floors of residential space made up of 79 multi-family units. This, much needed, affordable housing would be built above 3 floors of podium parking. The report notes that a density bonus for more housing would be allowed for this project, but wouldn’t be used because the extra height required for the building would trigger more expensive building materials or significantly more expensive underground parking. Notably, the parking in this building isn’t required or even targeted for the residents of the building, it would, instead, induce more commuter and visitor traffic to downtown.
This report is only exploring options for PDC and it points out that the density bonus for affordable housing isn’t a true financial incentive due to the fact that other costs scale with the development. Nevertheless, the inclusion of a parking garage in the project instead of more housing is further evidence that PDC is pursuing short sighted goals to encourage driving when it should be focusing on building affordable housing in areas of economic opportunity.
Mayor Ted Wheeler and his fellow Commissioners should ask PDC to calculate what a 6 story building with 5 floors of affordable housing for humans and no shelter for cars would look like. It may not pencil out, but it would be a project far more worthy of public subsidy than a parking garage disguised as affordable housing.