In an update to the Willamette Week story indicating that estimated costs had spiraled on the proposed move of Portland Fire's Station One/HQ, threatening to kill the deal entirely, I have been made privy to some new information indicating that it may still happen after all.
To quickly set the story for you: as part of a bond passed by Portland voters in the late 90s, the City's fire stations have been receiving renovations and upgrades, and new stations were constructed and/or are planned for construction. Of these, Station One was originally slated for just upgrading and renovation. A preliminary soil report alarmed officials by indicating that upgrade was either impossible or prohibitively expensive, but further analysis contradicted that initial finding, and the upgrade could have happened.
In the meantime, however, the Portland Development Commission had begun to eye the property on which HQ stands as high-value land, too high value for something as mundane as a fire station. They (and others) envision the area as a site for a luxury residential complex, and the base for an expanded Saturday Market. So PDC began encouraging a move of the fire station three blocks north, on the former site of Global Antiques.
PFR was amenable to the idea, but stressed that they did not have any funding beyond what was available for the original idea of seismic upgrade--about $11 million. PDC agreed to kick in the rest of the money, to the original $14.5mil construction budget. What followed--a significant expansion of those costs according to the contractor for the work, to $32mil--is detailed in the WWeek article. The article notes that subsequent adjustment was able to bring the number down to $23mil, still much more than Fire had the resources to pay for. Commissioner Erik Sten was quoted as saying that in his mind, the project was likely dead.
But that appears not to be the case. In my discussions with a City official privy to the negotiations, both further reductions and additional funding are conceivably on the table.
In the official's account, the reason for the high estimate was based on three things, none of them particularly pernicious:
- the lack of a firm design schema created by Thomas Hacker, the architects, that would allow the contractor, Hoffman Construction, to submit a precise estimate;
- the subsequent conservatism that drove Hoffman's estimate;
- and the realities of inflation--particularly the cost of steel, a phenomenon well understood in the OHSU tram project--that drove up the price over time.
The most serious of these angles is the apparent miscommunication between Hacker and Hoffman, wherein the architect failed to get a plan together that was detailed enough to allow a useful estimate of the costs. However, the official I talked to did not indicate that there was a sense of malfeasance or gross incompetence. On the other hand, it's pretty elemental that you can't cost out a plan if you don't have a good idea of what the plan requires.
Moving forward, the plan is to redesign the blueprints to cut costs into the mid-to-high teens. To accomplish this, it is theorized that moving parking from underground to aboveground will be necessary. When asked whether the project has any chance with underground parking, the official admitted there probably was not. However, if the costs can be taken down to around $16mil, or perhaps as high as $18mil, it is believed that PDC will seek to kick in the difference. They want the old land pretty badly, and right now it looks like their only choice.
More as the story develops...