At the Portland Development Commission’s Urban Renewal Advisory Committee (URAC) in late September, agency officials spelled out new directions for the agency and new procedures for citizen involvement — which seem to include a diminished role for the old advisory committees.

PDC director Patrick Quinton said the agency now has an adopted economic development strategy, and an emphasis on four targeted industry clusters: traded sector, athletic shoes and apparel, clean tech and manufacturing.

Bob Earnest, left, co-chair of the Gateway Regional Center Urban Renewal Advisory Committee (PAC) at a recent meeting.

There is less emphasis on geography-based strategies and, to the extent that there is, there is an emphasis on serving areas that “have not historically benefited,” such as east Portland, Quinton said.

PDC is also experimenting with new urban renewal models, notably six Neighborhood Prosperity Initiative districts (of which four are in east Portland), he said.

Another staffer, Jennifer Nolfi, said that the agency has become much more strategic in how it spends its funds. “We wanted to do a few clusters, and do them well,” she said. If they are asked to help fund new buildings, she said, “They must come with pre-signed tenants in them, and hopefully in targeted industries.”

PDC’s Keith Witcosky said, “For the first time we have a strategy that is very sound, and a direction to achieve our goals. Before, things were much more wide open, and we didn’t exert much leadership.” In addition, he said, “We have a lot of other advisory committees, a lot of ways to get input from citizens. You have a different role.”

In the discussion that followed, some of the URAC’s members expressed dismay, and questioned whether in fact they still had a function.

Opportunity Gateway members who attended had a calmer outlook. Gateway co-chair Bob Earnest told the Memo, “The summit was an opportunity to present a new paradigm, a reorganized PDC. There wasn’t enough time for questions and answers, and they recognized that. We will have fewer meetings, but more people there as resource people”; for Gateway, this includes former representative Sara King. “We’re losing some of our identity, but for people trying to access PDC it should be much easier. Our role still includes setting priorities and passing on budgets.

Earnest added, “We have been listened to in the past. We have had a consistent, focused approach, and because of that, we have a certain level of credibility. We have called consistently for economic development, and now they’re doing it. Either they’re finally listening to us, or we got lucky.”

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