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Guest opinion: To make paradise, stop putting up parking lots

Posted by on March 3rd, 2016 at 8:22 am


The planned parking garage and hotel are shown in green. All the whited-out areas are spaces where there is an existing above-ground parking lot. This does not include on-street parking or below-ground parking.
(Image: Google)

This is a guest post by Kiel Johnson, a resident of the Lloyd District who operates the Go By Bike shop and valet.

The Portland Development Commission’s startling new approach of publicly financing massive parking garages to pay their future operating costs should concern any citizen who does not want Detroit-style bankrupt public spaces.

As our city talks about addressing our homelessness crisis, we are spending $26 million to make sure affluent out-of-town convention goers do not have to walk one or two blocks.

The PDC’s new quest for revenue means that this powerful public planning organization will have a vested interest in maintaining and increasing all future auto capacity for many years to come. We must think: in the debate over the next Columbia River Crossing, what side will a PDC funded by parking revenue be on?

As a Lloyd District resident, every year I open my property tax bill and find that some of it is set aside for living in an “urban renewal area.” I have always assumed that this money is going towards making my neighborhood a better place. After reading last week’s article on the $26 million parking lot to be built next to one of our busiest transit hubs, I question whether this is the case. In the upcoming year I will be forced to watch the bulldozers and cement trucks I helped finance, working to build yet another parking garage in a neighborhood of parking garages.

As our city talks about addressing our homelessness crisis, we are spending $26 million to make sure affluent out-of-town convention goers do not have to walk the one or two blocks from any of the many existing parking garages to the new Convention Center Hotel. If they had to walk down these streets they might stop and buy a coffee and spend some money in our neighborhood.

Instead, tourists will drive from the airport to their hotel and then drive out of our neighborhood. For some reason I am paying to incentivize this.There is already plenty of publically funded car parking in the Lloyd District if we are just smart enough to use it.

The most disappointing thing is the lack of imagination, creativity and leadership that went into the idea to build another massive parking lot. When the cement trucks arrive I will think of this list of what else we could have done with $26 million.


For $26 million, you could:

Replace 43 percent of the Portland bicycle infrastructure that had been built as of 2008.

Build 7,878 tiny-house cottages for people without homes.

Caravan Tiny House Hotel

(Photo: H. Grimes)

Retrofit Grant High School, Creston Elementary, Cleveland High School, Chapman High School, Binnsmead Middle School, and Ainsworth Elementary for earthquakes.

Operate 325 bicycle valets for 14 hours a day, five days a week.

Go By Bike shop in South Waterfront-23

(Photo: J.Maus/BikePortland)

Recreate the 3rd Avenue Better Block project 5,200 times.

Add about 20,000 more bikes to this summer’s public bike sharing system, making it 20 times larger.

Paint 17,333 intersection murals.

NE 61st & Tillamook

(Photo: Greg Raisman)

Offer 20,710 full-credit terms at Portland Community College for free.

Build 8.6 solar panel projects the same size as the Oregon Convention Center solar project (totaling 55,900 panels).

We don’t give money to government in order to gamble on business ventures that will, if successful, make our community less livable. We give money to government so it can achieve the goals that none of us can achieve alone.

Kiel Johnson, Mr. Bike Train

This $26 million suggests that the PDC has lost sight of the goals Portland stands for. It’s up to our elected leaders to either get them in line, or cut off their supply of public money forever.

— Kiel Johnson is the proprieter of Go By Bike which is a BikePortland business supporter.

Note: This story was originally published with a lead graphic that showed a footprint for the new parking garage that did not accurately reflect its actual size. We’ve updated the graphic and regret any confusion. – Jonathan.

NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

  • Dan A March 3, 2016 at 8:37 am

    Wow, very well done.

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  • jenkins March 3, 2016 at 8:41 am

    Hear, Hear!


    Right on!

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  • Chadwick F March 3, 2016 at 8:45 am

    Just thinking about these issues in our cities today. Seems like the revival of cities will continue to be mostly for the well off if we keep giving up valuable, close-in land to park vehicles over other projects.
    Thanks for the illustration of where that money could go.

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  • eawrist March 3, 2016 at 8:59 am

    Has Metro provided data to support their presumed hypothesis that less people will attend a convention or stay at the hotel if they are required to walk 5 blocks?

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    • Anne Hawley
      Anne Hawley March 3, 2016 at 11:09 am

      What I’d like to know is how much good the convention center does our community to begin with. Convention centers, like sports arenas, strike me as having certain “boondoggle” qualities in common: big promises of revenue! renewal! local pride!

      But after the public funds them (particularly in this sales-tax-free utopia for visitors), do the revenues flow back into the community? To what degree? Are all costs counted? What was displaced? I’ve been to a fair few conventions, and one or two arena-class concerts, and they never seem to be located in places that I’d want to spend any time in as a human being: in other words, they sit in a blasted exurban cityscape of cars and bad food.

      Portland’s arena-convention center complex is at least central, with great transit. Does PDC really believe that ex-urbanizing it with more parking and cars will make it more productive for the people of Portland? I doubt it.

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      • Adam H.
        Adam H. March 3, 2016 at 11:18 am

        What I’d like to know is how much good the convention center does our community to begin with.

        Well, if you ask Metro or PDC, apparently not enough, which is why they’re pushing for the hotel and parking structure in the first place.

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  • RJ March 3, 2016 at 9:02 am

    Yes, a million times yes. I don’t understand how building more parking garages is going to get us to 70% bike/transit/walk mode share by 2035. Or improve air quality, livability, or any of the other things that actually matter. PDC’s strategy has to be in line with the City’s vision, otherwise what are we doing?

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  • bikeninja March 3, 2016 at 9:06 am

    Not to mention ,that as a revenue source, it is an idea with no future. One only has to look at the rapidly increasing cost of driving ( all things considered), and the impoverishment of the up and coming generations via low wages and expensive housing to see that making money renting out parking spaces will be a business model with not future.

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  • Julia March 3, 2016 at 9:16 am

    Reading the list of all the other possibilities MADE ME CRY. Because wouldn’t it be wonderful to actually have these things?

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  • Adam H.
    Adam H. March 3, 2016 at 9:17 am

    If the PDC needs a taxpayer-funded parking garage to stay afloat, perhaps it’s time to disband the PDC.

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    • Anne Hawley
      Anne Hawley March 3, 2016 at 11:11 am

      That was certainly my thought. Let it sink. Bye!

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  • peejay March 3, 2016 at 9:19 am

    This is the biggest money scandal in Portland right now. Where is the media? Where is the outrage? I want every single mayoral candidate to be very clear where they stand on this, and what they plan to do to stop it. We are well beyond the territory of “strongly worded letters”.

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    • Adam H.
      Adam H. March 3, 2016 at 9:23 am

      It’s only government waste when it’s paying for something no one uses, like protected bike lanes, streetcars, and transit bridges. /s

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  • peejay March 3, 2016 at 9:24 am

    Is it too late to get Kiel to run for mayor?

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    • Adam H.
      Adam H. March 3, 2016 at 9:27 am

      We need to get all the people that rallied against the CRC to rally against this parking garage. Like the CRC, this project will take us in the opposite direction from our low-car goals as a city. In addition, this hotel is a block from three MAX lines, so a parking garage here makes zero sense.

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    • Anne Hawley
      Anne Hawley March 3, 2016 at 11:12 am

      Or run against Amanda?

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  • Steven Soto March 3, 2016 at 9:45 am

    Kiel is my new hero.

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  • bikeninja March 3, 2016 at 9:46 am

    This makes me sad. What are our chances of us getting off fossil fuels and slowing climate change if we can’t even stop building huge cement parking garages.

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  • Chadwick F March 3, 2016 at 10:17 am

    Here’s Pinhead Gunpowder’s version of “Big Yellow Taxi” because (Damn you!) you got it stuck in my head with the headline. Also you could use it for the next BP podcast or something.

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  • MaxD March 3, 2016 at 10:23 am

    Any parking for this hotel must be beneath the hotel! It is INSANE to design or build a brand new hotel without incorporating parking. The project manager for the hotel project should be held accountable for this oversight! This would be a great investigative journalism piece; I would love to know who at the PDC was directing the architects to leave off the parking.

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    • Michael Andersen (News Editor)
      Michael Andersen (News Editor) March 3, 2016 at 11:12 am

      Building it beneath the hotel would require far more subsidy by someone, because multi-story excavation is waaay more expensive than multi-story construction. I suppose they could have a bunch of stories of above-ground parking beneath a taller hotel; I’m not sure how that’d impact construction costs.

      Anyway, the PDC didn’t direct architects to omit parking; the people financing the hotel (and/or Metro, the agency advocating for the hotel) demanded that the city take on the risk of financing a parking garage, and the PDC said yes.

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      • MaxD March 3, 2016 at 12:45 pm

        If it costs more to build parking beneaththe hotel, they have 2 obvious solutions:
        1. pay more shouldn’t be a problem if this is truly going to be a successful hotel
        2. scale back on the hotel and/or amount of parking.

        The PDC should ashamed at this give-away on the backs of the taxpayers. Thank-you BP for reporting on this

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    • TonyJ March 3, 2016 at 11:29 am

      It’s actually not at all insane to build a hotel without parking, especially in Portland. This is directly next to a max station and within blocks of 3300 other spaces which are often empty. We are in the midst of a transportation revolution.

      I think we can expect our leaders to look forward and plan for the future and be creative and smart stewards of our funds and lands.

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  • Anne Hawley
    Anne Hawley March 3, 2016 at 11:25 am

    Here’s what I don’t get. If this parking garage were really about enhancing the viability of the Convention Center (which it clearly isn’t), did PDC consider any less capital-intensive and less environmentally disastrous ways of doing that?

    Instead of trying to make the OCC complex more like every other city’s hellish car-centric convention centers, why not celebrate its uniqueness? Why not make a huge push to attract ALL the conferences and conventions for which Portlandy weirdness would be a plus? Why not do what the airport has done and position the OCC as “smaller but way cooler”?

    Why not put a fraction of that giant sum of money into a big old bike share station and brilliant safe bike connections to downtown and the Lloyd? Free high speed fiber internet throughout? Hell, I dunno, Segway share. Food cart pods right there. Subsidize gourmet restaurant startups on site. Actually let people go up into the glass spires and enjoy the view.

    I’m just spitballing here. There must be a hundred better ways to improve the OCC’s financial performance that are actually in keeping with the City’s stated values, goals, and all-important reputation.

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    • MaxD March 3, 2016 at 12:43 pm

      Great idea Anne! The City already owns a bunch of Parking garages and Park and Rides- why not strike a deal to block out spaces in those garages adn direct people to leave their car their when they make their hotel reservation? Whenever I have traveled to San Francisco or Vancouver BC, parking at a hotel is always extra and not guaranteed.

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    • Dan A March 3, 2016 at 1:08 pm

      Damn, why aren’t Portland’s leaders like you?

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      • Anne Hawley
        Anne Hawley March 3, 2016 at 2:01 pm

        It’s easy to be an armchair politician or project designer with zero opposition, an actual armchair, and the time to ponder.

        Mostly my point is that perspectives like the one I outlined should be obvious to anyone, and would be, if decisions hadn’t already been pre-decided and defaulted in favor of cars, cars, cars and affluent people.

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  • Josh G March 3, 2016 at 11:35 am

    Everybody reading this, take a minute to write a one sentence message to city commisioners about how gambling on a parking garage is not inline with the rest of Portland transportation policies. If this were up to a vote, everyone knows it would fail.

    Commissioners contact info here:

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  • Josh G March 3, 2016 at 11:46 am

    Here is contact info for our commissioners:
    Nick Fish ,
    Steve Novick

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  • Josh G March 3, 2016 at 11:47 am


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    • MaxD March 3, 2016 at 2:39 pm

      thanks for the impetus, I emailed them!

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  • wsbob March 3, 2016 at 12:02 pm

    “…As a Lloyd District resident, every year I open my property tax bill and find that some of it is set aside for living in an “urban renewal area.” I have always assumed that this money is going towards making my neighborhood a better place. …” kiel johnson

    Conventions are big business that cities across the nation compete to be booked for. Going back many years, city hall and business interests have been working on strategies that would have the city get more convention bookings, and the business that results from them. Successful efforts made towards having mixed use commercial neighborhoods such as the Lloyd District with its convention center and sports arena, become more economically vibrant, makes such neighborhoods better places, in many people’s opinion.

    People rely primarily on motor vehicles to meet their travel needs, so accordingly, there tends to be lots of parking for motor vehicles provided. If more people were biking instead, the city, and business interests, likely would be far more strongly in support than they are, of expanding parking for bikes, such as the valet bike parking service offered by Go By Bike, over in the South Waterfront area.

    People have debated for years, the supposed benefits of building a big convention hotel over in the Lloyd District. Remembering from Oregonian articles on that debate, return on investment in such a hotel, is a very long term prospect. There’s definitely risks in making that investment. Together, all of the major components of the Lloyd District, hold the potential for this neighborhood becoming an area of great economic vitality, and a growing source of employment. It’s happening now, has steadily been doing more so, for a number of years.

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    • Anne Hawley
      Anne Hawley March 3, 2016 at 2:17 pm

      wsbob: Successful efforts made towards having mixed use commercial neighborhoods such as the Lloyd District with its convention center and sports arena, become more economically vibrant, makes such neighborhoods better places, in many people’s opinion.

      I don’t think most of us are disputing the general idea that a convention-sports complex CAN make the city more vibrant, or even that ours, in particular, probably HAS done so. We’re questioning whether the neighborhood becomes a better place when it’s designed for more and more car use.

      I’d still be interested in the numbers on how much economic vibrancy is imparted to the residents and businesses in the area, in the absence of a robust hotel tax (Portland’s 11% doesn’t even make the top fifteen) AND any sales tax. The most obvious jobs created (once construction is finished) would seem to be poverty-wage service jobs.

      And I’d be interested in some real calculations about added costs from traffic, pollution, noise, and crash risk that every new parking spot represents. Where do Hertz and Avis rental car profits go?

      So many unanswered questions. So many 20th century assumptions.

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    • Dan A March 3, 2016 at 2:50 pm

      You know, I wouldn’t hold Las Vegas up as a good example for much, but I’ve been there a few times and I’ve never driven while I was there. It’s a rather popular place for conventions, and if you’re staying on the main strip you don’t need a car for anything. The vast majority of people there seem to be fine walking and take the monorail.

      We have the Max train that can take people to and from the airport at very minimal cost, and everything you might need for a convention stay is readily available near the convention center. What do people need cars for?

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    • J_R March 3, 2016 at 8:53 pm

      I seldom agree with wsbob, but this is a case where I do.

      The economic benefits of bringing people into the region to spend their money is multiplied several times over. Circulating that outside money produces jobs and tax revenues.

      Others will undoubtedly have different opinions, but having readily available parking will be a necessary requirement for some conventions or merely for visitors coming to the region.

      I’ve helped organize, promote, and manage some professional conferences and meetings as well as bicycle events and many participants absolutely require or strongly prefer having on-site parking available.

      Convention center and hotel parking is much different from employee commuter parking.

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      • Panda March 3, 2016 at 11:13 pm

        So put it under the hotel! This is a prime development block, too central to waste on a parkade

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  • Tom March 3, 2016 at 12:31 pm

    What bugs me is the return on investestment analysis is being held secret. If it’s such a sure thing, why hide the analysis? I can only assume that they included enduced demand in their model, and dont want that to get out. It may also predict the garage will divert users from other travel modes like transit. What it probably does not factor in are driverless taxis which will be dirt cheap, not equire parking, and pull more people into multimodal habits.

    Secrecy is usually associated with corruption. Are there any sunshine laws that can be used to obtain this anslysis?

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    • Michael Andersen (News Editor)
      Michael Andersen (News Editor) March 3, 2016 at 1:47 pm

      I’m told the details of the analysis aren’t public because the formula is the property of the consultant.

      The consultant was apparently hired by the Schlesinger family to come up with a business plan for a public garage that would serve the also-publicly-subsidized hotel that the Schlesingers want to build on their land.

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      • Anne Hawley
        Anne Hawley March 3, 2016 at 2:02 pm

        Well that’s sure to be objective, then, isn’t it.


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  • Alain March 3, 2016 at 12:45 pm

    Kiel, I hope you circulated your well-penned letter to City Council, the Mayor’s office, the Housing Bureau, and other housing groups within City government?

    Perhaps a, or a similar signature gathering, attention grabbing campaign could be started. I’d sign it!

    So many things are wrong about this parking garage being built, whether privately or public financed, but even more because it’s publicly funded.

    Any central city land used for parking in the midst of a “housing crisis”, words I’ve heard from the mouths of many elected representative, is pretty serious cognitive dissonance.

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  • ethan March 3, 2016 at 1:32 pm

    I completely agree that the parking garage is not needed. However, the map at the top leaves out at least 1 (pretty big) parking garage at 6th and Pacific and at least 1 surface lot is missing (the one for the weed store).

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  • Alain March 3, 2016 at 1:45 pm

    I sent letters of protest to Mayor Hales, his Policy Director for Development Jillian Detweiler, and Commissioners Saltzman, Fish, Fritz and Novick.

    The PDC could be a vital organization for urban reinvestment, particularly if certain reforms could be put in place (for one, increasing the affordable housing allocation from 30% to 50% or higher), but this PDC project fails to show the kind of urban development leadership Portland needs.

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  • Dawn March 3, 2016 at 1:53 pm

    Bravo, Kiel! When are you running for office? You’ve got my vote!

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  • Lenny Anderson
    Lenny Anderson March 3, 2016 at 5:54 pm

    The OCC hotel is a Metro project, so the adjacent parking structure is their baby…great example to all jurisdictions on how to move the region away from dependence of private autos! I was OK with the hotel, until this came up; now I agree with those who argue it should be killed. Maybe the OCC can become a homeless shelter; not much seems to be going on there these days. But in the final analysis, this corner of the Eastside will always fail to live up to its potential until the damn freeway is removed!

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  • Randy March 3, 2016 at 6:53 pm

    Parking structures = more cars = more mucho air pollution

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  • rick March 3, 2016 at 8:06 pm


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  • Tyler March 5, 2016 at 2:30 pm

    I would agree that the government has no business whatsoever building a hotel. If a hotel is needed, the market will provide it.

    Most of those parking lots in the photo above are located where they are needed – near large buildings, malls, MAX stations, etc. It makes sense. Each parking space is reserved for a citizen who likely has a job, pays taxes, tries to do the right thing (hopefully), etc.

    IF anyone builds a hotel, yes, it will need parking. People are not interested in hauling their luggage a block or 2 in the rain and dark thank you very much. Much less in a city they are not familiar with. To suggest that they should use parking a block or 2 away is ludicrous!

    Building tiny homes for po’ folk will not be providing the gubmint with much in the way of tax money. The writer claims to be concerned about future revenues for gubmint – apparently he really isn’t. He just doesn’t like cars. Not a surprising stance on a cycling website.

    Do we really need “intersection murals”? No.

    The CRC WILL be designed to move cars – if other users get a small slice of the pie they’d best be thankful for whatever they get. I-5 is designed to move motor vehicles and that crossing is a major piece of west coast infrastructure for those motor vehicles.

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    • Panda March 6, 2016 at 7:42 am

      This prosed parking garage IS over a block away from the hotel Entrance!

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  • Tim Davis March 24, 2016 at 10:20 pm

    Kiel, I tweeted a link to your AMAZING article and copied @pdxdevelopment, @NovickOR & @CommishFish. I merely pointed out their 1950s-esque request to publicly finance a parking garage. I hope that many others use the power of Twitter; it’s very quick and often very effective! It appears that City Council members read email less and less these days.

    It’s hard to believe that in 2016–in Portland, of all places–the major development agency in the city is requesting public financing of a PARKING garage in the urban core. It’s honestly incredibly depressing, and it shows how clueless our civic leaders are about what makes cities great places for PEOPLE rather than parked cars.

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  • Dave March 25, 2016 at 9:14 am

    I don’t live in POrtland. What is the Portland Development Commission, what do they do, and is there a good reason for them to exist?

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