The Rose Quarter: Failure by Design

Many commentators have expressed outrage at the possibility of a Costco being opened in the Rose Quarter. They point to the decades of public planning for that neighborhood and the multiple rail lines, and demand some form of transit-oriented development (TOD) as an alternative.

What they fail to understand is that rail-focused development is mostly a mirage. It seems like a nice idea but doesn’t actually work because retail, office and residential projects all need auto access and reasonable amounts of parking. TOD is the most expensive form of construction possible, typically double or even triple the cost of lower-density projects. Therefore, most local TOD projects require substantial tax subsidies – a practice that is inherently unsustainable.

The truth is that the Rose Quarter is an economic dead zone precisely because Portland planners got everything they wanted: four light rail lines, a streetcar opening next year, limited on-street parking, and a 50% reduction of auto traffic on the Steel Bridge. As a result, the area is a jumble of crossing rail tracks, ugly overhead wires, clanging bells, bus stops and mega-sidewalks, with virtually no retail stores. Why would anyone want to go there?

Light rail doesn’t attract development, it repels it. After 25 years of MAX, that’s the central lesson. Too bad no one on the City Council is interesting in learning.


John A. Charles, Jr. is President and CEO of Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.

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Posted by at 05:00 | Posted in Economy | Tagged , , , | 10 Comments |Email This Post Email This Post |Print This Post Print This Post
  • Garage Wine

    And you can’t say the City didn’t try. Remember when Rose Quarter was a “vibrant” spot for night life? That’s right. Widmer Brothers ran a full-fledged microbrewery and restaurant. Cucina Cucina had a huge outlet. By 1998, that all changed, according to the Portland Business Journal:

    “Excitement around the original plan was used to entice major restaurant and retail concepts like Cucina Cucina Italian Cafe, TGIFriday’s Front Row Sports Grill and Nike into the Quarter. The strategy for creating that district was laid out in a 1995 Rose Quarter master plan, but involved in the process say few if any of the proposals have been implemented. Consequently or coincidentally, all of the retailers have ceased operations save for Cucina Cucina, and Bill Schwartz, the Bellevue, Wash-based restaurant chain’s CEO, all but conceded the restaurant is running in the red.”

    Of course, the planning overlords will blame the NBA lockout for all the problems …

  • Rupert in Springfield

    Actually this little incident provides a great opportunity for some creative thinking as well as some introspection.

    Introspection opportunity one – Portland hates big box stores. While Sam Adams supports the Costco plans others think they are ugly impersonal buildings with massive parking lots. Take a look at the current tenant. See the big ugly building? See the big ugly parking lot? Does this give a clue why the crazed anti big box crowd is a little loopy?

    Introspection opportunity two – OK, so the current tenant is the massively ugly Blanchard Education Service center. from the photo it looks like they have a nice big parking lot there. This would be a good opportunity to see how many people are actually using all those choo choos and buses. Is that working out or not? Is there a need for parking at all with all that great mass transit in the area?

    Creative thinking opportunity – 680 people work at Blanchard. Given the massive salaries school officials and maintenance workers tend to command, maybe its time to look at this figure and let a few people go. It seems very hard to believe it takes 680 people to run a school system as under performing as Portland. Consider firing 300 or 400, and moving to a smaller building. Perhaps send someone on a trip to New York. The Archdiocese runs a massive school system with a staff of a couple of dozen and they actually educate people.

  • Bob Clark

    It all starts with the Federal Transit Administration and associated federal bureaucracies. The federal government taxes, borrows and effectively prints money in our names then turns around and shows about half the loot; and says: ‘you may have this half back if you build me some high cost capital projects.’ Then local leaders say: ‘we can’t help it. the money has to go here and not other more locally favored public necessities or wants. Our hands are tied.’ It’s the proverbial shell game with local, state and our federal elected representatives all complicit in the endless, largely wasteful government spending scheme. Local business and government leaders no longer try to foster a vibrant private sector based economy, but rather one based on chasing federal hand outs.

    This is part of the nexus for the Tea Party and Americans for Prosperity movements. Hopefully, these movements can alter this insidious web of inefficient government expenditure.

    It’s kind of funny. The same thing happened with Cascadia and the light rail to the airport. A big box store had to be called in to save the area; and isn’t it difficult taking for instance your new furniture purchase home via light rail and bus.

  • Bob Tiernan

    Bob Clark:

    “It’s kind of funny. The same thing happened with Cascadia and the light rail to the airport. A big box store had to be called in to save the area; and isn’t it difficult taking for instance your new furniture purchase home via light rail and bus.”

    Not only that, but it was a really stupid idea to use that area for all that retail and possible warehouse and office bldg space because when you consider that at least 95% of the people shopping and working there, the traffic in that congested section of I-205 worsens despite the fact that the planner claimed (as usual) that with light rail there the exiating traffic problems would lessen.

    Bob Tiernan
    Portland

  • Economist

    I was thinking a Bi Mart would be the better choice for this sad wasteland. Shows you what happens when government attempts to do anything that actually would work.

  • Not fond of Eyeore Adams

    The PPS ‘Blanchard’ site seems apropos for some inside the Rose Quarter box thinking, vis a vis, a Safeco or Qwest Field type (provided there’s sum existence) opportunity for Portland to really behest itself in the major league sports market.

    For crying or decrying out loud: Notwithstanding the Grand Ronde tribe ‘conditional’ offer for Rose Quarter stadium-size ‘enhancement’ – other $ponsors aren’t exactly enamored with the city of KNOWN NONSENSE and udder civic stadium debacle-teats. Even now, the PGE Park(ing plot lark) attending MLS faces rounds of incoming neighborhood ire.

    On the other hand, the (less controversial) Rose Quarter locale still beckons – yet without some tribal ‘gamboling’ or Measure 75 razzle dazzle – bike pathos Portland, largely a stage coach stop ‘tween French Prairie Wilsonville(ino), OR and La(la) Center, WA, blink, blink?

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