Another Williams/Edling Land Grab in the Making

Anybody who pays attention to commercial real estate and development in Portland knows the names Homer Williams and Mark Edlen. Astute observers also know they’ve had their eyes on the Lincoln High School for a while. Now we find out that they’ve met with Erik Sten to discuss a land grab that would move Lincoln to an industrial waste land and open up Lincoln’s choice eleven acres to condo towers… subsidized by urban renewal dollars.

Tellingly, no school district leaders were involved in the talks. Given Sten’s failure to grasp how Portland Public Schools policy works at cross purposes with his ideation of affordable housing near strong neighborhoods schools, we should be very, very concerned.

Neighborhood schools activists have long suspected the motives of the district’s real estate policies. And the machinations of Homer Williams and Mark Edlen have been well chronicled on Jack Bog’s Blog.

33 Comments so far

  1. truthy (unregistered) on November 9th, 2007 @ 12:10 pm

    Thanks for calling my neighborhood an industrial wasteland. That area (the con-way land) has incredible plans for development, including parks and Portland’s first “green street”. I think this would be a much better location for Lincoln, and it’s closer to a lot of the homes it serves, while still being near transit.


  2. Steve (unregistered) on November 9th, 2007 @ 12:15 pm

    Hey Truthy, calling those parking lots your neighborhood is like calling Swan Island my neighborhood. You know what I’m talking about.

    Calling something “green” and invoking transit doesn’t make it right. The existing location is perfect for Lincoln. The trouble is that it’s also perfect for Homer Williams.

    Maybe if we move Lincoln, and then build and aerial tram to get the students there from the west hills…


  3. Betsy (unregistered) on November 9th, 2007 @ 12:19 pm

    But here’s the thing: to have this thrown out before parents, the school community, or – hey!- even the district itself has a chance to weigh in (whether publicly or privately) really reeks.

    Especially when it’s being positioned as a ‘let’s help replace that pooooor schoooool building.’ (There are other schools and other buildings higher up on the priority list – but they’re not occupying prime real estate, are they?)


  4. RJBob (unregistered) on November 9th, 2007 @ 1:16 pm

    This is all news to PPS, the Lincoln HS administration and Lincoln parents. Another back room deal involving b-boy Eric Sten and the Portland real estate mafia. I seriously question whose best interests are being put first here: Homer Williams and his minions or Portland kids?


  5. Dimitri (unregistered) on November 9th, 2007 @ 1:31 pm

    How can anyone say this is news to PPS or Lincoln when Lincoln admin and parents have been discussing this for over a year? There’s been plenty of weighing in. They may not have been discussing this with specific developers (i.e. Williams and/or Edlen) or maybe they have, but yes, everyone knows that Lincoln’s building is inadequate, overcrowded and dilapidated. I’m sure PPS would love to figure out a solution that would benefit not just Lincoln but other schools through land trades.


  6. Steve (unregistered) on November 9th, 2007 @ 1:41 pm

    Lincoln’s enrollment is 103 students greater than the neighborhood PPS student population and 297 greater than the neighborhood student population attending Lincoln.

    In other words, the overcrowding issue is overblown and could largely be solved by addressing district policy. Instituting an International Baccalaureate program at Jefferson, for example, could help alleviate this overcrowding.

    And as Betsy pointed out, Lincoln’s physical plant doesn’t exactly top the list of PPS high schools in need of help. That’s a red herring thrown out by Homer and the boys so they can say it’s all about the children. They really really want that land.


  7. divebarwife (unregistered) on November 9th, 2007 @ 2:34 pm

    I don’t claim to know much about schools – and this does seem a bit shady, but they must be kinda crowded there. The space in the cafeteria we usually use for the OMTAAMB isn’t available this year because they’ve converted it all the classroom space.


  8. Steve (unregistered) on November 9th, 2007 @ 2:45 pm

    No question that Lincoln is overcrowded. The pattern of transfers in PPS has created overcrowded schools at Lincoln, Grant, Cleveland, and Franklin, and gutted shells at Roosevelt, Jefferson, Madison and Marshall.

    In other words, the overcrowding at the schools in Portland’s whitest, wealthiest neighborhoods is offset by underutilized buildings in its poor and working class neighborhoods.

    So this can be addressed by policy. We don’t have to give Homer and his boys another choice chunk of land, and we don’t have to give some developer a choice construction project to address the overcrowding at Lincoln.

    We can start by rebuilding comprehensive programs at Jefferson, Roosevelt, Madison and Marshall. If we’re not willing to do that, we’re not being honest about the actual problem at hand.


  9. PPSParent (unregistered) on November 9th, 2007 @ 4:51 pm

    Of course Sten thinks this is a good idea! He just bought a million dollar house in the Lincoln cluster. His kids could go to the new school!

    And why is Lincoln crowded? Because we have such poorly drawn boundaries. Look at a map: Roosevelt HS is much closer to Forest Heights and Skyline but heaven forbid THOSE kids would go THERE!

    Isn’t Lincoln rather “new” in comparison to other schools like Cleveland, Grant, and Franklin?


  10. george (unregistered) on November 9th, 2007 @ 4:56 pm

    i don’t want to defend this particular deal, but for a commercial real estate deal, this is just normal stuff.

    it would be wrong headed for anyone to bring it up for discussion/evaluation before the terms were at least broadly hammered out.

    that way, when you come to the table, you can bring numbers with you.


  11. Steve (unregistered) on November 9th, 2007 @ 5:42 pm

    Is it normal to hammer this stuff out without the owner of the key property represented?


  12. chris (unregistered) on November 9th, 2007 @ 7:50 pm

    I think Conway is just being polite in listening. There is nothing here to suggest “land grab”. Based on how things are going for Conway, making maximum money will be their goal.

    I live close to the aforementioned “waste land” as well and I’m ready for more than just parking spots, school or no school.


  13. Steve Buel (unregistered) on November 9th, 2007 @ 8:43 pm

    Sten was quoted in the newspaper as saying there needed to be an offsetting deal in other parts of the city. Does this mean that if PPS builds a new school at Lincoln they then need to build a new school at Jeff? Seems sensible to me. Maybe there would be enough money from the Lincoln deal to finance Jeff also. Might help with keeping the neighborhood from fleeing Jeff. What’s fair for the …..


  14. Jeff parent (unregistered) on November 10th, 2007 @ 9:20 am

    No Steve Buel! A new building at Jefferson will NOT keep neighborhood families from fleeing the school. Please listen to what Jefferson neighborhood parents and students have been saying for years! We need PROGRAMS AND COURSE OFFERINGS at Jefferson that are equal to what is offered at other schools like Lincoln, Grant, Cleveland, etc.

    What you are suggesting is exactly what PPS is planning to do anyway. They are intimately involved in floating the Lincoln proposal to create exactly the sort of criticism that will lead to including other poorer schools like Jefferson in a redevelopment plan.

    The Jefferson redevelopment proposal has already been drafted by PPS (without input from Jeff families) and it was presented at a conferenece in Washington DC a few weeks agao. The project summary talked about how the Jeff building is inadequate for the 4 new small academies that Vicki Phillips forced on Jefferson. We don’t want 4 little academies with limited curriculum, and we certainly don’t want a new building that sets that horrible experiment in stone. The plan also gives some of the Jeff land to PCC (which has been wanting that property for years) and will require our high school students to take classes at a community college to get access to courses that high school students in other neighborhoods can take in their own classrooms with other high school students.

    New buildings is another distraction from the real problems of inadequate school funding, and inequitable distribution of educational programs that creates overcrowding at some schools and abandonement of other schools.

    I’m all for improving Jefferson and other school buildings, but not like this. Let’s keep PPS’s focus on what our students need for a good education, not how to develop school lands to benefit the land developers. I know PPS needs money, but selling off our schools is not the answer to our funding problems. We need statewide tax reform to ensure adequate funding for public education. Selling off school land will provide a short-term profit but when that public land is gone it’s gone forever.


  15. Steve (unregistered) on November 10th, 2007 @ 1:35 pm

    To be clear, I’m not opposed to rebuilding our aging, unsafe, inadequate school buildings. But, like I said, Jefferson wouldn’t be at the top of that list by any reasonable assessment.

    My biggest concern is when this type of discussion begins with Homer Williams drooling over a very choice chunk of level land right smack in the middle of the urban core, and proposing a land swap and urban renewal swindle without bothering to consult the owner of the property. (That owner is you and me, in case that isn’t clear.)

    Who does he think he is?


  16. Wacky Mommy (unregistered) on November 10th, 2007 @ 2:25 pm

    PPS Parent, Sten’s house was actually around $1.285. “Let them eat cake!”

    http://www.portlandtribune.com/news/story.php?story_id=118945876994466600


  17. chris (unregistered) on November 10th, 2007 @ 8:37 pm

    Shame on the Sten family for being able to afford a nice house after consolidating 2 houses! Would you feel better if he lived in a flop house? What a world you live in where nobody can strive to live in the house they choose.

    Back to the main issue. I agree that it appears out of form for Sten to conduct communication on this topic without having a PPS official in the loop. The Tribune piece about the developer finding “vials and needles” made me gag on his false tears about “the children”. However, it’s so preliminary right now, getting excited about this is premature.


  18. Steve (unregistered) on November 11th, 2007 @ 10:56 am

    You could argue that the price of Sten’s west hills home is irrelevant. You could also argue that it has dramatic symbolism, given that poverty and affordable housing are signature Sten issues.

    But let’s put that aside.

    We’re discussing a commercial real estate deal facilitated by Sten that will quite possibly affect the value of his own property.

    The location of this property is definitely germane to the discussion.


  19. george (unregistered) on November 11th, 2007 @ 7:31 pm

    um, geez. this is kinda late, but to respond to someone’s reply to my comment…

    the “owner” of the property is the city of portland. and so, a representative was at the table. PPS is a part of the city…

    so yea, WHO do you approach first when you want to buy city property? there are lots of people to talk to… probably start with the friendliest/most powerful ear.


  20. Steve (unregistered) on November 11th, 2007 @ 8:14 pm

    The City of Portland does not own Lincoln High School. Portland Public Schools (PPS) does.

    PPS is within Portland, but is independently governed, with its own revenue stream, elected governing board, and property. I hope you can understand the critical difference between city property and PPS property. The City of Portland has no ownership interest in or control over PPS.

    Erik Sten represents the City of Portland (and his own interests), not Portland Public Schools.


  21. onemoretimearound (unregistered) on November 11th, 2007 @ 10:42 pm

    You are SO RIGHT about the conflict between PPS and the effort to build neighborhoods with good neighborhood schools.

    Right now, in my neighborhood, PPS wants to make Sunnyside all-magnet, no neighborhood. Without telling the neighborhood, they apparently passed a resolution to push all the neighborhood kids out in 2003. Now they say, we were only obligated to let them in for two years. Their complaint about giving neighborhood kids access — too many of them! PPS: When we started there were only a few neighborhood kids. Now there are lots of them. PPS: This is BAD! PPS: Obvious answer = close the school to neighborhood kids.

    Helloooo! How many stacks and stacks of plans do we have that say that’s exactly what we want! Have good, healthy neighborhoods where families with kids will want to move. But to PPS officials, kids in the neighborhood who want to go to the local school? Bad! Must be stopped!

    I am so done voting yes on anything they put out until they start behaving with some integrity. They feel no obligation to be open, truthful or even interested in the public’s opinion, let alone interested in cooperating to improve communities.


  22. george (unregistered) on November 12th, 2007 @ 1:18 pm

    yeap, looks like title goes to Portland School District!

    interesting difference.

    but do they not have an ownership interest in the property? is that really established?

    or is this something that PPS asserts and the city occasionally denies?


  23. george (unregistered) on November 12th, 2007 @ 1:30 pm

    and also back to the original question you raised steve, it IS normal in multi party deals for initial planning to be done with all parties not present.

    again, that way when they approach PPS, they will approach them with a better developed and more accuate deal.


  24. Steve (unregistered) on November 12th, 2007 @ 2:09 pm

    Yes, this is established. The City of Portland has no more ownership interest in PPS property than it has in county or state property.

    I seriously doubt it’s normal for the owner of the key piece of property in a land swap deal to be left out of initial negotiations. These guys are arrogant and untrustworthy.


  25. george (unregistered) on November 12th, 2007 @ 2:34 pm

    why is it not normal?

    before approaching PPS, why would they not want to know what their capital costs were going to be? why not find a site for PPS to make the presentation stronger? it adds value to the deal…

    if the city has 0 property interest, then what is wrong with involving sten to see if they can squeeze some $$ out of the city to sweeten the deal?


  26. whitebuffalo (unregistered) on November 13th, 2007 @ 9:53 pm

    PPS is going to float a bond in the fall of ’08. The purpose of this bond is for capital improvements for schools. The newest HS in PPS is 50 years old–the NEWEST was built in 1956. (Clarification: Currently acting as a HS).

    I say if PPS can sell Lincoln for big bucks, build a new, GREEN HS in NW and have money left over then it’s a no brainer–DO IT!. This means that there will be more money to go around for the rest of the schools when/if the bond passes.


  27. Steve (unregistered) on November 13th, 2007 @ 10:11 pm

    If such a proposal were to come out of a comprehensive review of PPS high school facilities, I would probably be in favor of it.

    Since it’s coming out of back-room meetings between two of the biggest sucklers of the public teat in Portland and their eager public appeaser, we all have reason to be very concerned of a pending swindle.


  28. Anne (unregistered) on November 15th, 2007 @ 9:53 pm

    When real estate developers start paying fair corporate taxes, when they stop cynically taking advantage of the Federal tax credits for building in urban renewal areas, when they start building truly affordable housing, THEN I will believe they care about the citizens of Portland.

    ON another note, as I understand it, Sten is planning on putting money in the David Douglas District area , by somehow including it as an urban renewal zone. Someone correct me if I am wrong.


  29. Anne (unregistered) on November 15th, 2007 @ 9:56 pm

    Also re: GREEN building. Aren’t the first rules of sustainable, green living to use less, and to reuse? Building new buildings when we don’t take care of our old ones sounds like a way to make big money and call yourself an environmentalist at the same time.


  30. Roger That (unregistered) on November 15th, 2007 @ 11:50 pm

    Erik Sten is not gay.


  31. Whitebuffalo (unregistered) on November 19th, 2007 @ 10:24 pm

    Steve,

    You asked for a comprehensive facilities review and you got one: the district just wrapped up meetings on facilities 2 weeks ago. Yes, every building. Yes, every program. Meetings took place to assess facility needs for all programs for the next 50 years.

    I still say if you can get $$ for the Lincoln site, build a new Lincoln, have $$ left over and pass a bond next fall for the rest of the district–DO IT! Who else is going to pay for this? When???


  32. Whitebuffalo (unregistered) on November 19th, 2007 @ 10:28 pm

    Anne,

    Sometimes it is cheaper to build a new building than remodel an older one. I refer you to the recent work done in the Lake Oswego SD. Lake Oswego HS was built from the ground up for $17mil. Lakeridge HS was remodelled for $39mil.


  33. k.c. workinguy (unregistered) on November 28th, 2007 @ 7:59 pm

    PPS Facilities ? ? ? I remember when these were probably some of the most well maintained buildings of the period/genre in the nation !!! It was no accident that they were maintained in such excellent condition . . . They were well maintained because PPS management was at one time totally committed to maintaining them . . . but in post measure 5 years, the district, under the guise of “protect the classroom at any cost” adopted an orchestrated policy of NOT MAINTAINING them… PPS was not so very long ago a FULL SERVICE fully self-maintaining in house facilities maintenance operation …The most highly skilled maintenance workers were employed there and were fully capable of performing all aspects of preventitive as well as capital improvement maintenance projects… But then came the “Business Does It Better” movement… So qualified worker after qualified worker was laid off, the facilities condition declined drasticly as maintenance projects were “Deferred” . . . and now the district management is aggressively promoting the expenditure of it,s already limited resources on such private(and expensive) consultants as Magellan K-12 and William DeJong & Associates… Business Does It Better ??? Seems to me that Business Just Wants The Business !!! and Portland School District Taxpayers should be asking some serious questions regarding how much “Business” intends to charge them to repair or replace facilities that have been irresponsibly neglected by key PPS decisionmakers in recent years !!! and coinicidently did someone by any chance mention how “Houston,TEXAS” fits into this “Exciting” new proposal ???



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