PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Portland Mayor Charlie Hales is starting his last year in office after deciding not to run for re-election. He talked to KOIN 6 News about what he still wants to accomplish and whether Portland lacks a grand vision for the future.
“I’ve heard this concern over time. That Portland lacks the ‘big thing’,” said Hales.
Big cities like New York and Los Angeles have well known landmarks, of course, but even smaller cities like St. Louis and Seattle have defining landmarks they are known for, like the Gateway Arch and the Space Needle. But Hales has no plans to propose a big thing for Portland in his last year in office and believes the Rose City doesn’t need one.
“Other cities have been very aggressive with ‘look at me.’ Well, we’ve been very aggressive with building the city we want to live in.”
Hales trumpets the Rose City’s light rail and street car lines, as well as the Urban Growth Boundary and managed development. He’s proud of the city’s creative culture and food scene, including the James Beard Public Market that’s in the works for the west end of the Morrison Bridge.
Hales also points to the renovation of Providence Park for the Portland Timbers and their recent MLS Championship. He also mentions the fact that the Moda Center, previously the Rose Garden, was built without writing a big check to a billionaire.
“Would it be nice to have baseball? Of course. Would it be nice to have football? Maybe. I’m not sure Portland is a football town, but we’re not willing to take public dollars and write them over to a private party in order to put ourselves on the map. We have a great quality of life here without doing that,” said Hales.
Previous Portland Mayors, like Vera Katz, tried having a grand vision. She wanted to cap I-405 to create 26 new blocks of space for shopping, living and business. She also tried to bring Major League Baseball here, but couldn’t get either project off the ground.
Meanwhile, across the Columbia River, Vancouver is working to convert its waterfront to a prime, river view destination with plans for restaurants, shops, housing, a hotel and a park on 35 acres. It is an effort to leapfrog Portland in terms of a ‘big thing.’
“Vancouver, Washington?” said Hales. “Well, good luck with that. I wish them well with that, but it’s still Vancouver.”
That’s exactly the attitude Vancouver is hoping to capitalize on, with little competition for waterfront entertainment dollars.
Tim Leavitt responds
KOIN 6 News asked Vancouver Mayor Tim Leavitt to respond to Hales’ comment. He kind of laughed it off.
“I’m acquainted with Charlie and Nancy Hales. I would initially say I want to give Charlie the benefit of the doubt, that maybe he said something he’d like to take back. We often do that. Nobody is perfect. I’ve said things before I would like to recant. But we’re very proud of what’s happening here. This is going to be a tremendous addition, not only to Southwest Washington, but a great compliment to what’s happening throughout the metro area.”
Leavitt says the city has already spent millions on road and utility improvements for the area and there will be a billion dollars in private investments. He adds the redevelopment is a long term project, driven by the ups and downs of the economy.
As for Hales, he believes that Portland’s overall quality of life with sustain the city well beyond his single term in office.
“I’m proud of the difference of Portland. I don’t think we have to engage in civic arm waving in order to be a great city. In fact, it seems to be the world is noticing us because we’ve been so carefully curating the kind of city we actually want to inhabit,” Hales said.
Hales tells KOIN 6 News he hasn’t lost the fire to be mayor. He said he changed his mind about running for a second term so he can concentrate on doing the work of mayor instead of stumping for votes.