Earlier this week, I posted a "Coming Down the Pike" article regarding the land use review process for the Made in Oregon sign in Old Town. The new tenants of the building it sits on would like to put "University of Oregon" on the sign, instead of "Made in Oregon". It has previously displayed "White Stag" and originally "White Satin Sugar". It is a designated historic landmark, meaning it cannot be altered or removed without review by the Historic Landmarks Commission.
Commissioner Leonard posted this on his personal blog yesterday. He, along with Mayor Adams and Commissioner Fish, is proposing an ordinance on the City Council Agenda on the morning of Wednesday April 1, for the City to purchase the Made in Oregon sign. If necessary, the proposal is to use eminent domain (condemnation, or purchase against the will of the property owner). Media reports set the potential cost at $500,000.
Since the proposal to change the name on the sign is still in a legal review at the Historic Landmarks Commission, with potential appeal of the Commission's decision to City Council, I will not comment on whether I support changing the lettering on the sign.
I am concerned about the proposal on Wednesday's City Council Agenda to spend hundreds of thousands dollars, to buy a sign. I am also concerned about potential litigation if the City uses public condemnation to force the purchase of a sign in order to preserve the private corporate trademark on it.
The Council has just spent three painful weeks listening to budget worksessions at which bureau after bureau presented needed cuts to programs, services, and staff serving citizens. An increase of 18% in water rates is proposed. More than one hundred City employees are likely to lose their jobs in July or before. We don't know how we're going to pay for the Resource Access Center that will provide housing and services to people experiencing homelessness, helping them train for jobs and return to productive lives. We don't know how we're going to help Multnomah County pay for the new Sellwood Bridge. We don't know how we're going to pay for staff to help the Human Rights Commission improve police-community relations. We don't know how we're going to fund night shelters for homeless youth, parks programs for people with disabilities, sidewalks to schools in neighborhoods. I see all those needs as much higher priority than buying a sign. Even if private money is raised to buy the sign, I believe there are many more worthy causes we should be asking philanthropists to fund.
I am glad the University of Oregon has invested in leasing the historic building in Old Town, and has chosen to locate a campus in Portland. I see multiple opportunities for partnerships between the University of Oregon, Portland State University, Oregon Health & Science University, our community colleges, private universities, and the proposed investment of Oregon State University in South Waterfront. We should be welcoming the University of Oregon to Portland, rather than implying we love Portland State University less if we celebrate the new arrival -- or worse yet, comparing the good name of one of our great public universities to that of an adult business.
Buying the White Sugar/White Stag/Made in Oregon sign will not provide basic services in neighborhoods. It will not make our City streets safer. I often say that I do not make up my mind on how I will vote until after I have heard and read all the public testimony, however I cannot think of a plausible reason why I would vote to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on this sign, in the middle of a recession. The sign will still be there when the economy recovers, and if Portlanders find the letters on it offensive, the Council can exercise eminent domain in the future.
Now - who pays, who benefits, and is that fair? How would you like the Council to prioritize spending half a million dollars, citizens of Portland?