Portland is closer than ever to what officials call a “once in a generation opportunity” to buy the U.S. Postal Service’s 14-acre headquarters in the Pearl District. Officials said it would be the most expensive urban renewal project in city history.

The Portland Development Commission spent months negotiating with the Postal Service to buy the agency’s headquarters and find it a new home. Now the urban renewal agency has a new cost estimate for that work — $80 million.

Officials said that could be only the starting point. Without more money, the city’s River District urban renewal area would have nothing left for other projects.

“You get presented with opportunities, and oftentimes you don’t get to choose the timing,” Patrick Quinton, Portland Development Commission executive director, said Monday. “This is the moment.”

Quinton described the proposal as an investment. The city has pined for the property at 715 N.W. Hoyt St. for decades because of its size and location at the western edge of the Broadway Bridge.

In 2008, Portland entered exclusive talks with the post office, but talks sputtered. In 2011, the city appeared close to a sale agreement, but that $64 million deal fell through.

Now the development commission may ask the City Council to issue debt to help pay for the project. Without another money source, the River District would have to delay high-profile projects such as redevelopment of Centennial Mills.

Quinton said Portland could look at general fund-backed bonds or a combination of sources. “We don’t know exactly what it will look like and how it will be structured,” he said. He also declined to give a specific amount. The city is still negotiating, but both parties agree a preliminary estimate is $80 million, according to city documents.

On Wednesday, Quinton will brief the development commission’s board on the negotiations with the post office, a preferred plan to redevelop the land and an analysis of what the property may be worth under a variety of scenarios.

The City Council will hold a work session Sept. 17. A vote on a presumed deal is set for Oct. 15 at 2 p.m.

Quinton said without additional money, the River District would run a deficit. Portland has $163 million in debt that could still be issued in the River District to pay for projects, which includes the Pearl District as well as Old Town Chinatown. The urban renewal provisions are set to end in June 2021.

Portland already has big plans in the River District outside of the post office site. The city plans to spend $35 million to $40 million on a plan to kick-start redevelopment in Old Town Chinatown. And $20 million is budgeted for the Centennial Mills redevelopment. There’s also a $7.5 million renovation of Union Station.

The development commission will budget an additional $35 million or so to invest in the post office property, Quinton said, either for transportation improvements such as extending Northwest Johnson Street, or adding sidewalks or open space.

If the city moves forward with the deal, it could partition the land and sell off pieces to developers, sit on the land or sell the entire property.

“It’s not likely that we’re going to spend zero,” Quinton said of the additional money. “It could be that [$35 million], or we could sell the entire thing for $120 [million].”

But Quinton said regardless of future uses, buying the land puts Portland in the driver’s seat on 14 acres, enabling it to dictate investments in affordable housing, public space and other priorities.

Shawn Uhlman, the development commission’s spokesman, said he couldn’t recall a project with a comparable price tag. The agency chipped in about $30 million for the Interstate light-rail extension.

— Andrew Theen

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