Student Spotlight: James Alexander

Submitted by: James Alexander, Student Coordinator, First Stop Portland

I will graduate from Portland State soon, and with the diploma comes the end of my time with First Stop Portland. As the culminating opportunity of my time here, I  spent the last term interning on the development and investment team at the Portland Development Commission (PDC).

As an undergraduate, I studied how to maximize public dollar expenditures and this internship allowed me to apply what I learned in the classroom to one of the most influential projects coming down the pike-- redevelopment of the U.S. Postal Service distribution center in Northwest Portland, which the PDC acquired for $88M in 2016.

It was exciting to take my first step out of Portland State University into one of Portland’s most transformative projects, especially in its preliminary planning phases. I don’t think most people my age get a chance to experience a classroom-to-workplace connection like this. In four weeks working at PDC, I participated in meetings that touched on all aspects of the project including the bureau’s future financing mechanisms (such as tax-increment financing), partnerships with potential development firms, and the Broadway Corridor Framework Plan. As a student who has closely watched negotiation of the post office site, this property acquisition showcases the role of public agencies like PDC in creating healthy, livable neighborhoods. In their own words, “This is a once in a generation chance to transform a downtown development and the Union Station multimodal transportation hub in a uniquely Portland way.”

Walking through those doors on my first day was as daunting as it was riveting. The relationships I'd built at First Stop Portland  eased my nerves. I quickly learned that the PDC is undergoing massive institutional changes in both its funding structure and its operations, shifting from a pro forma-centric model to a more community-based one.

PDC Director Kimberly Branam explains the vision for the Broadway Corridor to the community
Even in my short time here, that shift has been apparent under its new leadership. I helped PDC host the Broadway Corridor Visioning Workshop, an open forum that invited a diverse range of voices to learn and discuss what items in the plan are most important to the community - an event in true Portland fashion. Additionally, I’ve been tasked with transcribing and maintaining analytics of what those leaders at each table thought the Broad Corridor Framework Plan should represent. I may know better than anyone else here at the PDC what the community thinks, haha-- pretty cool if you ask me.

FSP Advisory Council member Charles Kelley, ZGF, engages with community members at a community visioning workshop
I'm grateful for the opportunities First Stop Portland offered me. I met people from nearly every continent. I was inspired by learning from Portland's leaders and experts who are working to make Portland a more livable, sustainable and equitable place for all. My work with First Stop Portland helped refine my academic and professional focus, preparing me for my next step in life. While it’s sad to be leaving that environment, I now feel prepared work alongside city leaders at this exciting time in our city's history.

Who knows, perhaps in five years I’ll be presenting on the Broadway Corridor for First Stop Portland's visitors?

You can find these and other photos from PDC's community planning meeting on Flickr

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