A Sign of the Times

The MADE IN OREGON sign atop the White Stag building is a Portland Waterfront icon. Every Christmas, the lighting of the red “nose” is carried live by all the television stations and has become a local tradition. The sign read “White Stag Sportswear” until 1997, when it was changed to “Made in Oregon.” Now the latest owner, the University of Oregon, wants to change the sign, too.

Portland City Councilor Randy Leonard is proposing to condemn the sign so the city can control its message. But there is no legitimate rationale for condemnation, because there is no pressing public need for the sign or the building (unlike, say, condemnation of buildings for the purpose of using land for a road or a school). Condemning privately owned property for political reasons is simply wrong.

According to published reports, the cost of condemning the sign would be well over half a million dollars. Mayor Sam Adams and Commissioner Nick Fish are alternatively recommending buying the sign to save the message.

But if the City of Portland has $500,000 to acquire the Made in Oregon sign, shouldn’t this public money be spent on real needs instead? The city claims to have inadequate funds to maintain the local road system (among other needs). The City of Portland should use taxpayer money on real priorities, not to condemn or buy the Made in Oregon sign.

Jeff Alan is Chief Investigator at Cascade Policy Institute, a non-partisan free market research center based in Portland, Oregon. Photograph by The Oregonian.