Midtown, Gentrification on Steroids

It’s no secret that Portland has a housing shortage.

Out of control rent prices and residential property taxes are pricing working class people out of town at an exponential rate.

Our homeless shelters are overflowing constantly with people from every walk of life running out of hope.

There is a seemingly never ending stream of people in desperate enough situations that they will brave humiliation, harassment, and freezing temperatures to beg for money on our street corners and medians.

There are camps of people Hooverville-ing it in dozens of our wooded areas, feeling the burning stares of strangers, the leering presence of police officers, and the stinging shame of stigmatization anytime they venture into public.

Why then, one might ask, would I ever oppose a development that would bring roughly 700 new apartment units to Bayside- the neighborhood that not only leads the city and state, but also the country, in homelessness?

I’ve been an outspoken opponent of Midtown since I learned of the proposal about a year ago and I’ve heard all the arguments being made by supporters and fellow opponents of the development.

There’s been a lot of back and forth over things like the height ordinances that will be ignored, the skyline views that will be disrupted, the fierce street level winds that will be generated, and the enormous shadows that will be cast in the likely event that the four giant towers and two sprawling parking garages get approval from the city and are built.

Months ago, in response to these concerns and others, Planning Board member Jack Soley was quoted saying, “get over it”. Not exactly an encouraging attitude coming from a man wielding power over the future of our city, especially when so many Portlanders oppose the development.

Whether you’re for or against it- no one can deny that the apartments at Midtown- projected to run from $1300 to $1700 per month for studios, one bedrooms, and two bedrooms- would be too expensive for the average working class Portlander, and that if the venture by Federated is successful the units will certainly be filled almost exclusively by out-of-towners who were living comfortably in the place that they came from.

Midtown completely ignores the needs of the people already living here and will serve to perpetuate the pattern of gentrification that we are experiencing all throughout the city at a rate unchallenged in the history of Portland.

Imagine the impact of Midtown if it’s built and succeeds as Federated wants it to- thousands of new wealthy residents will move in from away. Property values in the neighborhood will rise, causing landlords to either raise their rent prices or renovate into condos in an area where almost every renting tenant is living on the brink from paycheck to paycheck. The huge homeless population will be displaced from the area into other parts of the city, and the lower income Bayside residents who remain, like those who live in Kennedy Park, will be financially unable to enjoy the benefits of the retail and restaurant space. The small businesses in Bayside will see increased property taxes and further over sized, upscale development will be encouraged. Foot traffic and business will be siphoned off from Congress Street and the Old Port.

All of this plus the added possibility that the venture fails and ends up in a situation similar to Back Bay Tower, only on an extremely massive, unmanageable, un-erasable scale unlike Portland has ever seen or should ever see.

When I was a kid, back in the late 80’s and early 90’s, my dad used to take me to the Miss Portland Diner when it still sat at it’s original spot in the middle of what was then a desolate dumping ground across the street from where it sits now on Marginal Way.

Bayside has seen an amazing amount of change since those days, the neighborhood has gained traction and is quickly building in momentum.

If approved by the city, Midtown will take ten years to build. Imagine the small scale development- in line with the character and keeping of Portland- that could happen on the land in question in the next ten years if local investment is given the chance. If Federated gets the go ahead none of that will be possible- ever- on that land.

Bayside is not a lost cause, it’s an ignored opportunity. Portland in general is doing great, as evidenced by our recent ranking in Business Insider’s list of the top 14 places (in the world) to visit this year. So while some people adamantly, passionately want Midtown, we certainly do not need Midtown.

What we do need is more common sense solutions to ending the housing crisis. Constructing Midtown takes us light years away from reaching that end.

In the face of exponentially growing public opposition accompanied by a level of risk that is debatable in measure but present in fact- I can only hope that the Planning Board will stun everyone and say “no” to Midtown when votes are cast.

When that time comes I’ll have my fingers crossed, but based on Mr. Soley’s sentiments I certainly won’t be holding my breath.

Note- On Tuesday at 5 pm the Planning Board will finally vote on whether or not to approve construction of the first phase of Midtown in the Council Chambers at City Hall. I was at the last meeting, and gave public testimony in opposition to Federated. I plan on attending Tuesday’s meeting as well, and will give testimony again if public comment is allowed. I also support the mission of the newly formed group, Keep Portland Livable, and I encourage you to check them out on their website at keepportlandlivable.com or on their facebook page.

Chris Shorr

About Chris Shorr

Chris is a sixth generation Portlander who loves all things Maine. He has worked with mentally ill and marginalized adults at a Portland non-profit, on a lobster boat in Casco Bay, at several high-end Portland restaurants, and at a local meat packing plant. He also ran for Portland City Council in 2013, wrote a weekly column in the now defunct Portland Daily Sun, and currently writes a weekly column in The Portland Phoenix.