Board finalizes sale of Morrison Bridgehead; public market moves a step closer

June 14, 2012

The Multnomah County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously Thursday to approve an agreement with Melvin Mark Development Company for the $10.4 million sale of the county-owned Morrison Bridgehead properties.

The vote concludes the negotiation process for the downtown Portland site, which the county has used for surface parking since acquiring the land in the 1950s as a bridge construction staging area.

The agreement approved by the board on June 14 details the terms of sale for the county’s bridgehead site to Melvin Mark Development for the James Beard Public Market -- a planned year-round indoor and outdoor food market with a high-rise tower and sky-bridge connecting the properties.

The $10.4 million sale is equal to the property’s most recent appraisal. Melvin Mark Development will pay $100,000 within 10 days of the execution of the agreement, and will pay the remaining amount at the end of a three-year fundraising period. During this three-year period, Melvin Mark will update the board every six months on development progress.
The Morrison Bridgehead, a 3.12-acre site on the west side of the Morrison Bridge in downtown Portland, has long been identified as a gateway to downtown and an ideal location for a major attraction.

The new development will provide an economic stimulus to the local economy, returning the property to private ownership and to the tax roll. The project has the potential to create hundreds of jobs and improve the vibrancy of surrounding areas of downtown. 

“This is ground zero for job creation in the food industry,” said Ron Paul, consulting director of the James Beard Public Market Foundation about the future market.

“The estimated 110 permanent vendors and their impact on the regional agricultural economy will produce approximately 348 jobs that right now do not exist,” Paul told the board. “It will be all locally owned, non-franchised businesses, so dollars that are generated within the market stay within the community.”

During the construction of the James Beard Public Market, Melvin Mark Development will encourage the participation of minority, women and emerging small business contractors, as well as sustainability-focused initiatives.   

The Morrison Bridgehead site was declared surplus county property in 2004. Parking revenues from the 400 parking spaces on the site will continue to accrue to Multnomah County until the transaction closes, which is expected to happen on or before June 15, 2015.  

Commissioner Deborah Kafoury said the development will be a national symbol and bring much-needed tax dollars to the community.

"I am really excited we have this opportunity to take what is in the heart of our city that is now not attractive, and make it something people can use and people will enjoy and love," Kafoury said.

The county chose to enter into the sale agreement with Melvin Mark Development after a competitive Request for Proposals process. An evaluation committee of local volunteers with expertise in finance, development and architecture scored the company’s proposal highest.

Before the board vote, Chair Jeff Cogen voiced his optimism about the project.

“The work that we’ve done to try and promote local agriculture, to promote sustainability, to keep the local food system vital and do that in a way that also cements our position of green and agriculture leadership nationally is a really rare opportunity,” Cogen said.

The county retains ownership of all Morrison Bridge ramps and infrastructure, and the proceeds from the sale of the property will be set aside toward efforts to fund a new county courthouse.