PORTLAND, Ore. (Portland Tribune) — The board of the Portland Development Commission voted to change the name of the city’s longstanding urban renewal agency to Prosper Portland on Wednesday.
The change reflects shift towards community-based economic development activities. In recent years, the City Council has moved the agency’s housing construction to the Portland Housing Bureau and voted to allow a number of the urban renewal agencies it administers expire at the end of their terms. Before then, the council had repeatedly extended almost all URAs.
“This change further underscores the shared focus of my office and Prosper Portland to build an equitable economy. We are committed to delivering growth and opportunity for all Portland residents,” says Mayor Ted Wheeler, who oversees the agency.
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“Today, Portland enjoys a more robust economy than we did five years ago. And yet we continue to face disparities in income and opportunity across the city that must be addressed,” says Kimberly Branam, Prosper Portland’s executive director.
The former PDC released a five-year strategic plan in 2015 to help share prosperity among residents by harnessing and expanding the agency’s resources for job creation, place-making and economic opportunity. Among other things, it called for partnering and collaborating with public and private sector organizations to ensure that all communities benefit from economic growth, especially communities of color and those historically underserved.
“Achieving widely shared prosperity would mean dramatic increases in the number of Portland households that can make ends meet. Working with private, public and community partners, we are redoubling our efforts in support of growing quality jobs, healthy neighborhoods and thriving small businesses,” Branam says.
Examples include the Inclusive Startup Fund, managed by Elevate Capital, which provides early-stage investments into high-growth companies founded by underrepresented groups. Its first class of women, African American and Latino founders raised more than $6 million in follow-on investments.
Another example is the North by Northeast Community Health Center. Supported by a Community Livability Grant, it is the only clinic in Oregon focused on African-American health.
The rebranding effort is similar to other undertaken by public and nonprofit agencies in recent years. In Oregon, the include changing the name of the state’s economic development agency to Business Portland and renaming the Housing Authority of Portland as Home Forward.
The Portland Development Commission was created by the passage of a city ballot measure in 1958. Its primary mission then was to help redevelop parts of town deemed lagging by capturing and redirecting the increased property taxes generated by rising land values from its work into them. Although it is credited with helping transform such areas as the Pearl District and South Waterfront into thriving communities, much of its work has been controversial. For example, one of its first major project in the area around the Keller Auditorium replaced a lower-income multi-cultural neighborhood with more expensive apartment towers.
Some other projects it helped support have been better received, including Pioneer Courthouse Square, the Eastbank Esplanade, RiverPlace, the Classical Chinese Garden, and the renovation of historic Union Station.
When the PDC was originally created, the five-member governing board appointed by the City Council had more autonomy than similar ones, including the ability to set the agency’s budget. But in May 2007, Portland voters approved a measure proposed by former Mayor Tom Potter givingnthe council more control over the agency. Among other things, it made the council the PDC’s budget committee.
Changes quickly followed, including the council requring that 30 percent of urban renewal dollars be set aside for affordable house. Actual control of the money was subsequently spun off to the Portland Housing Bureau and the amount was increased to 45 percent.
More recently, the PDC has contributed to a variety of such community-driven economic development projects as Portland Mercado on Southeast Foster, grants to neighborhood business districts, Techtown Portland and the Tech Diversity Pledge, and the Mercatus digital platform to showcase and connect local business owners of color.