Sustainability Center Finally Euthanized

Reckless spending is such a way of life in Oregon politics that it is truly noteworthy when a wasteful project is terminated. Such is the case with the proposed Oregon Sustainability Center, a green building Taj Mahal that was pushed for the last four years by Portland State University and the City of Portland.

The building was originally envisioned to have 13 floors at a cost of $121 million, but went through steady downsizing as political reality set in. When Portland Mayor Sam Adams finally threw in the towel last week, the project had been whittled to seven floors for $62 million, but the basic problem remained: The finance model was unsustainable.

Project backers had always assumed that the Oregon legislature would provide the necessary subsidies; but during the 2011 legislative session, House Republicans withheld all support, and they were joined by influential Senator Betsy Johnson, a Democrat. By early 2012 it was clear that state subsidies would not be forthcoming.

Proponents claimed the building would have been a hub for innovation in green building design, but that was never a valid reason to build it. Such research is highly speculative and only should be financed by private investors. The proper role of government is to encourage innovation through low tax rates, minimal regulation, and enforcement of property rights.

*Cascade Policy Institute consistently opposed the Oregon Sustainability Center throughout its planning process. See John Charles’s March 2010 guest column published in Portland Business Journal explaining why the Sustainability Center has never been sustainable.

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 Energy, Government Waste, Mayor Sam Adams | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments |Email This Post Email This Post |Print This Post Print This Post
  • Rupert in Springfield

    This is absolutely one of those projects that was a government over reach. While it can be argued there are some places for government to be involved because they are on such a scale that the private sector could not do them, this is not one of them. Whether one thinks such endevors are the proper role of government at all is another question, but if one accepts that it is, then yes, something like NASA has justification, an office building does not. Private enterprise builds office buildings all the time, and those with sustainable design elements go back quite a ways. The Citicorp building in NYC would be an example, although the solar panel feature in its slanted top was never realized.

    The idea of the Oregon Sustainability center was inherently idiotic. If Oregon builds a building that is so expensive because of its green bells and whistles, then others will build very expensive buildings as well. It is hard to see the purpose in such a thing and it is welcome that the project was finally terminated. The idea that such nonsense could go on as long as it did is only testament to the religious fervor of such things, not their practicality at this time. In that sense the debate did serve some purpose. Hopefully it raised awareness that while some green projects can have value, they are best left in private hands so that such value is watched with a careful eye. The list of Solyndras is growing ever larger. We have plenty of federal and local government rip off programs of this nature. People should be skeptical of such endeavor. Hopefully the Sustainability Center and its demise makes people more so.

  • Bob Clark

    I hope it is dead. But in PDX: expansive, intrusive local government policy is a deeply embedded cancer. Case in point, the bureaucratic Convention Center Hotel proposal is like the proverbial bad penny which goes away for a short while only to return again and again and again. Then there is the case of Mayor Sam Adams’ administration. It is scheduled to end this January; but while the players may change, another administration of similar ill will take its place (no doubt). The Oregon Sustainability is a public dollar sink hole, bringing profit to the connected business folk (at the expense of taxpayers and schools, etc); and for this reason and the naivety of the Portland electorate, the Oregon Sustainability Center most probably returns again and again and again.

    Well, at least, it’s dead for a few months anyways. And that’s good.

  • Oregon Engineer

    Horray!! Need to go after the Energy Trust of Oregon. Another legislative boondoggle with absolutely no oversight and a huge bureaucracy costing rate payers an additional 3% in energy cost providing a service already provided by the power and gas companies. Those rebates are not free.

  • Judahlevi

    Much like the dot com days of the nineties, “sustainability” is the buzzword of this decade. Liberals automatically assume that anything with the name of sustainability is good. This is obviously not true, but it takes wiser people to distinquish between the hype and the reality.

    If you want to have liberal Portland support almost any project, just make sure that the word “sustainability” is inserted into the title. It doesn’t have to apply, the dot coms didn’t always apply either, but it makes people ‘feel’ warm and fuzzy when they say they support it.

    After all, it is all about how we feel, not whether it makes economic sense. Dionysus reigns supreme in Oregon, Apollo is left in the clouds.

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