UPDATED: HP Contract Awarded to Pro Historic District Company; “What?” Asked Santa

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Santa Claus who Hasn’t Returned to the North Pole Yet Said in an Email to Mhn;com: ” “What a Sneaky, Sneaky Stunt of the City.  Nothing Impartial Here.”

“Our mission is to provide the preservation field with data-driven arguments and creative policy solutions to advance the public good of historic preservation” – that is the goal of PlaceEconomics, a Washington, D.C. based company.  That’s what it does.  Check it out yourself on-line.

Why does it matter?

It matters because this pro Historic District consulting company was recentlty picked by a city hall committee  to conduct an impartial study of Portland’s Historic District designation program. The consulting company is anything but impartial.

The study was sponsored by City Councilor Andrew Zarro, District 4, this past spring. He introduced the concept to the City Council that unanimously supported the study. The cost of the study is $65,000. No funds were allocated in the city’s budget for this expense according to the Councilor.  But, according to Zarro, whose father is a real estate attorney, there were other sources for the money to finance the study. However, he has declined to name that source despite multiple inquiries for that information..  Rather, he recently said in an email to this blogger that he had “secured” the necessary funds for the study. But once again Zarro would not identify the mysterious source of the funding.  Aren’t you curious?

The city’s HP office does not have a credible collection of data to back up its claims at public meetings that support their HD preservation program.  Is this company being commissioned to provide the back-up the city office can’t produce on its own?  That’s what it looks like.  Who is paying for this?

Zarro, new to city politics,  told this blogger this spring at his coffee shop on Congress Street on the  HIll that it was possible the yet to be hired consultant could recommend that Portland’s HP program be eliminated from the city’s agenda for any number of reasons.  He also told this blogger not to report that in any stories that might be posted on mhn.com. Does the economic impact of this office on the city’s budget justify its continued funding mhn.com is asking?  Expenses like staff salaries, board member expenses and related costs impact the city’s budget.  Will this pro Historic District company address this issue? “It will all come out later,” Zarro said last spring.  “When?” asked Santa, a man of few words, in an email to mhn.com all the way from the North Pole.

The city council’s  two votes on whether or not to include the Hill in the HP program caught the attention of  many because of the rogue behavior of Councilor Zarro. Specifically,  In February 2021, Zarro voted not to include the HIll in the Historic District.  That vote helped prevent the inclusion of the HIll in the HP designation.  Although the matter had been under intense community debate for at least three prior years, Zarro decided he needed more time to learn more about the designation.  During that time, Zarro told mhn.com he experienced intense lobbying. Unpleasant threats were common and clearly stressful for him. Later, at an April City Council meeting, Zarro reversed his vote and supported the Historic District designation for the Hill.  It passed City Council muster the second time around.   What did Zarro learn between the two city council meetings that motivated him to change his vote is unknown to this blogger.  Anyone have any ideas besides this blogger?

Greater Portland Landmarks, a non-profit whose overbite is well-documented, intensely lobbied the community to send emails to the city council in support of the inclusion of the Hill in the Historic District designation.  This blogger who was on the receiving end of numerous emails from Landmarks urging my support and to let the city council know in writing of that, was stunned at the apparent urgency of this campaign. Why was the matter so important to Landmarks?

Meanwhile, the Request for Proposal, (RFP) was prepared by the Planning Department. It was issued in September 2021. It carried a deadline for submissions of October 13, 2021 and there were a total of four submissions.  The proposed contract between PlaceEconomics and the city of Portland  has finally found its sluggish way to the legal department for review.  It’s been slogging its way from the planning department to the legal department  navigating the red tape that only city hall can produce.  It’s city hall’s speciality.

Lots of unanswered questions remain.

(UPDATED: – January 3, 2022. Christine Grimando, AICP, Director of the Planning & Urban Development Department.emailed this blogger this afternoon that the city’s 2022 budget did in fact allot $65,000 for the study to be conducted.  This is contrary to what Councilor Zarro emphatically told mhn.com on several occasions).

For more background information on the RFP process, please visit post herein dated September 14, 2021.