A decade ago, a group of city “visioneers” headed by Councilor John Hummel and his cronies launched an ill-fated plan to develop 1,500 acres of city-owned property north of Cooley Road, which was subsequently named Juniper Ridge. While they had no written strategic plan or fiscal forecast to provide standards for accountability, the basic idea at that time was to attract dozens of scientific research and hi-tech manufacturers to a park anchored by a prestigious new university.
Bend avoided a public vote on the issue by creating an unprecedented Urban Renewal District for 1,500 acres of pristine High Desert that seemingly provides unlimited capacity for debt without accountability to anyone through TIF (Tax Increment Financing) bonds.
Ten years later, the public fully deserves a comprehensive analysis of the failure that Bend has realized at Juniper Ridge through a comparison of stated objectives to justify the project versus what has actually materialized over ensuing years.
Objective 1: A prestigious new research university to attract desirable employers.
Result: Oregon State University-Cascades Campus is thriving on Bend’s west side.
Objective 2: Thousands of new jobs to create economic vitality in Central Oregon.
Result: Zero new jobs in 10 years in addition to millions wasted on relocations for Les Schwab Tire Center Inc. and Suterra.
Objective 3: Dozens of scientific research and hi-tech manufacturing firms.
Result: Zero new employers of this caliber; Facebook and Apple built facilities in Prineville.
Objective 4: Tens of millions in profits from land sales for the city.
Result: A massive pile of debt with interest meters going “ka-ching” every day.
Objective 5: A comprehensive northside traffic fix including Cooley Road/U.S. Highway 97 and an interchange for Juniper Ridge.
Result: Traffic on the north side is snarled worse than ever.
Objective 6: A massive flow of property tax revenues from a multitude of new tenants.
Result: The city recently layered an enterprise zone over parts of the project to defer taxes for years.
Objective 7: Mixed use facilities including large tracts of residential development by 2012.
Result: No mixed use facilities and no residential development whatsoever.
Objective 8: A labyrinth of fabulous parks.
Result: No new parks of any kind.
Objective 9: A Performing Arts Center with a big lake!
Result: No center and no lake.
Objective 10: A sophisticated new technical center.
Result: The new technical center was awarded to Redmond.
In 2007, the city hired yet another costly consultant named ECON NW to perform a financial analysis of Juniper Ridge, including preparation of a fiscal forecast five years after the fact. They projected revenues from the project of $115 million by the first quarter of 2012. Subsequent sales to Suterra and Pacific Power generated approximately $8 million, which means that the city has missed their latest sales target by an unbelievable 93 percent.
To make matters worse, a prominent city official recently announced the city has not given up on a new university at Juniper Ridge.
When is this madness ever going to end? How is the debt going to be repaid at Juniper Ridge with no sales in the past four years?
Everything that could possibly go wrong at Juniper Ridge during the past 10 years has gone wrong, primarily as the result of poor strategic planning and flawed execution by the city. Myriad costly consultants have only made a bad situation worse.
The city of Bend should never have been in the development business in the first place. That’s not a proper function of government.
We need to replace the current council with successful business people in November.
It’s far past time for a 50-year moratorium on this unmitigated disaster followed by a sale of property to private developers who possess the expertise to manage a project of this magnitude.