|Prosperity districts struggle to meet financial goals
THE MID-COUNTY MEMO
You're climbing a mountain, going up a steep slope. You're exhausted, but the summit is within sight, within reach. Somehow, you summon up reserves of strength, haul yourself up, and throw yourself triumphantly upon the sum No, that was just a shoulder. The real summit looms ahead, and there's a lot of it.
This might sound familiar to the steering committees of the six new Neighborhood Prosperity Initiative districts, of which four are in mid-county. There are rewards to be had, to be sure, including more than a million dollars in public funding for business development and local projects, but the hurdles these good people must overcome are steep and getting steeper.
This is particularly true of the Parkrose district which, to be true to our mountain climbing analogy, must make the rest of the climb with a broken foot.
Once they are recognized and approved by the Portland City Council - virtually certain to happen at a City Hall hearing on April 4 - all property taxes generated within their boundaries, over and above those now being collected, will go into a special Tax Increment Fund, for business assistance, public improvements and special projects within the given district's boundaries. Either each district remains in existence for ten years or until it has generated $1.2 million in TIF monies, whichever comes first.
PDC officials associated with this venture emphasize it is the local steering committees, not they, who will set the direction and administer the program. However, PDC sets the rules for having a program.
First, each district had to recruit a steering committee of about a dozen people, as diverse as possible, all committing to spend 20 volunteer hours a month on the venture; second, each district had to raise $3,000 by March 1. Somehow, all six managed.
However, there is more. In each case, all steering committee members must go through a lengthy training session. Each must secure the use of a storefront office within the district, through either a donation or rental. Each must either create a new non-profit corporation or work with an existing one to administer the program. Each must hire a professional manager. Finally, because of this last requirement, and because there will be no TIF funds available in the first year, each was told to raise $15,000 to $30,000 by June 15, this amount to be matched by PDC.
Last month both the PDC Board and the Portland Planning and Sustainability Commission unanimously and enthusiastically endorsed the project. City staff in their testimony emphasized the program's local decision-making. PDC's Kimberly Branam said it was a community-driven approach; they define what they want to see in their areas. Jackley said the effort will be community driven and community implemented. The paid manager will provide the districts with local staff as opposed to city staff. The target outcomes are net business growth, higher tenancy rates of commercial buildings, job growth, and strengthened business districts. It will take some time, but we'll be with them every step of the way.
Jackley noted that since the kickoff in November there have been 60 public meetings among the six districts, with public outreach in Spanish, African languages, Vietnamese and Chinese.
Commission member Howard Shapiro asked if it was appropriate for PDC to be both advisor and banker to the project. We do wear multiple hats, Jackley conceded. We have to keep a weather eye on TIF.
Jerome Funchess, a member of the Rosewood District, said that outreach efforts have already produced the Rosewood Café gathering place and the Ballpark Lunch meetings in cooperation with area churches; they are planning a Bike Fair this spring in cooperation with the Community Cycling Center. In the no man's land on the border of Gresham in a small amount of time we have brought a lot of people who didn't know each other together, Funchess said.
Joe Rossi said that in the Parkrose district, We started the process last year without knowing it, a reference to building support for his immigrant statue at Northeast Sandy Boulevard and 99th Avenue. The district covers a lot of what used to be a viable business district that's fallen out of favor. He added that regarding NPI, Some people said, 'This is a government thing.' I said, 'no, this is about us.' We appreciate the chance to take part.
Commission member Karen Fischer Gray, who is also Parkrose School District superintendent, said that Rossi and his partner Amelia Salvador formed the backbone of the leadership for the Parkrose district. Joe's family has a long and distinguished background here, she said. She recalled sitting at one table at the Parkrose Elmer's with Lore Wintergreen, the city's East Portland Action Plan director, while the NPI volunteers met at the next table. This is a locally visioned, non-bureaucratic approach for a community that desperately needs increased employment, especially immigrant employment, Fischer Gray said.
Referring to Rossi's testimony, commission member Don Hanson said, The fact that this has grown from the community up is fantastic. Commission member Irma Valdez called the effort an amazing opportunity for Portland.
The Parkrose stakeholders met that night to consider their latest challenge: PDC had decreed that they would have to come up with pledges for $30,000, and at least $7,500 in cash, by June 15. DeKlyen told the Memo that the requirement was not changed, just firmed up. The agency has determined that the districts will need full-time managers, she says, and for this, the high-end of the $15,000 to $30,000 scale is needed.
That's a huge change, Parkrose NPI stakeholder member Luke Shepard said.
When I heard about this, my mouth fell all the way down to the floor, Parkrose stakeholder leader Colleen Gifford said. Another stakeholder, longtime Parkrose Neighborhood Association chair Mary Walker, said she doubted the money could be raised from local neighborhood businesses. At the same time, Gifford said she doubted that PDC would simply walk away if some of the districts did not fully meet the goal on time.
To deal with this, district representatives began meeting in closed-door sessions to devise a common strategy to deal with the new challenge. They have declined to discuss it publicly at this time.
The new requirement is a particular hardship for the Parkrose district, which has internal problems of its own. Until last month, the strongest and most active group in the area was the Parkrose Business Association. Last month, however, the PBA effectively put activities on hold until their May general meeting. Internal conflicts among some of the group's longest-lived board members came to a head, and resulted in the abrupt resignation of president Judy Kennedy and the dismissal of four board members: Marsha Lee, Mary Brown, Mike Taylor and Gail Bash. This in turn was the culmination of a dispute between Joe Rossi and longtime PBA leader Wayne Stoll.
Most of those involved seemed reluctant to talk about the matter for the record; some refused to respond at all. What is on the record is a letter from Rossi to what was originally the PBA executive committee listing 23 points of grievance. This was followed some time later by another letter from Rossi's attorney Peter Diamond.
Rossi says he never intended the first letter to be published or widely circulated, that it was simply an attempt to hold a mirror up to the PBA leadership.
Some of the points specifically charge the leadership with disobeying their own bylaws, ignoring term limit regulations and retaining a board member with a solid record of non-attendance at meetings. It also asked why neither Rossi nor Shepard (Parkrose Educational Foundation president) were listed on the ballots at the 2010 elections.
The board's initial reaction was to call a special meeting to change the PBA bylaws, eliminate term limits, and legalize its current board structure retroactively. In response, Rossi's attorney Peter Diamond sent a letter criticizing this approach and implying legal action if it were pursued.
Following the letter, and Kennedy's abrupt departure, acting president David Ableidinger told the Memo, [at the March board meeting] We decided to drop the amendment, acknowledge that the four members' terms have expired, and make no changes until our May general membership meeting. There have been talks between Rossi and some of the members on his issues, Ableidinger said. However, he also said the bylaws allowed the board vote Brown and Lee, secretary and treasurer respectively, to retain these positions.
Rossi himself has received criticism. The letter faults the PBA for failing to properly support the immigrant statue effort, and goes on at some length about the group's failure to give Amelia Salvador the group's Karl F. Lind award, which appear on the surface to be a case of sour grapes. In addition, according to one account, Rossi called and haranguedKennedy the day before she resigned.
Kennedy did not return Memo calls. Rossi says he was trying to get Kennedy to develop a backbone and play the role of neutral reformer. He adds, None of this related to her - she took the machine gun bullets. She is the most tragic person involved in this. As to the complaint about the award he says, That was the straw that broke the camel's back. He adds, I really admire David Ableidinger. Whatever he does as chair I'm okay with.
Regarding the PBA's future Ableidinger says, It does delay our forward momentum. Fundraising ideas will have to be put on hold.
In a subsequent interview with Rossi regarding PDC's additional fundraising requirements, he said, I don't see how this (Parkrose NPI) can line up without the Parkrose Business Association's involvement.
To read Rossi's letter to the PBA in its entirety go to midcountymemo.com/memlog/rossi-report.
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