12/14/2013 12:56:00 PM Taking up real estate in the pews: Volunteer assists with parish capital planning
Catholic Sentinel photo by Clarice Keating
Gerald Mildner networks at a PSU business briefing where his students presented in front of real estate professions.
Clarice Keating Of the Catholic Sentinel
It’s fortunate that St. Michael the Archangel Parish leadership plans to reinforce its church walls – this community is bursting with talent.
One such talent is Gerard Mildner, director for Portland State University’s Center for Real Estate.
Due to the church’s proximity to PSU and downtown business high-rises, the pews are often filled with bankers, attorneys and academics. Mildner has a doctorate in economics from New York University and has been teaching at PSU for more than 20 years. His research is focused on the economics of local government, honing in on growth management, rent control, housing markets, land use regulation, and urban transportation.
He also serves on the parish finance council and the development team that advises Father Jim Mayo, pastor, on issues related to the parish’s upcoming capital project. Mildner is also chair of the “transitions” committee that is seeking a temporary worship space while the parish undergoes improvements to reinforce brickwork and repair disintegrating mortar.
“If we were in Beaverton, we might have 5 acres of land where we could bring in modular housing, but we have no land here at all,” Father Mayo said about his small, urban parish. “We’ll have to be like little pilgrims.”
During construction, services will likely be held in rented office space nearby the church.
Naturally, Mildner’s connections in the real estate world have proved valuable, the pastor said.
“I trust his judgment a lot,” Father Mayo said. “He has his pulse on the larger community business-wise and real estate-wise, so he’s the perfect guy for doing that.”
The Center for Real Estate is a partnership between PSU's Schools of Urban Studies and Planning and Business Administration.
Mildner works with associate director Julie Gibson, who focuses on connecting students with the outside business world via employment, mentors and internships. The center coordinates between the two schools to offer interdisciplinary programs that prepare students to work in the real estate industry. One intensive program culminates with students solving a real problem on an actual site, and requires that students consult with industry leaders to create a development prospective.
“It gets them engaged in the community and doing all the things that a professional developer would have to do,” Mildner said.
Programs like Mildner’s have helped elevate PSU’s standing over the past 20 years from a small commuter college to one that has grown and evolved with the city where it resides. With 30,000 students, PSU is Oregon’s largest public university.
“When I first arrived, this part of downtown was dead at night and on the weekends,” Mildner said. “Nowadays you come to campus, and morning and night there are people crossing Broadway. The campus is bigger and on weekends there are students, a farmers market, good restaurants. We’ve become a fully integrated part of downtown.”
That integration is a goal for St. Michael’s, too, where Mildner has been a parishioner since the first day he arrived in Portland. Since 2007, Mildner has been part of team that has explored how to best prepare the parish for a sustainable future. He and Kimball Ferris, a real estate attorney, Cheryl Scarcelli, a health care executive, and Bud Carro, a retired accountant, have spent many a night meeting over pizza and Chinese food dinners to explore the parish’s options. The project stalled when the economy tanked in 2009, but is now roaring closer as the campaign has generated approximately $4.5 million and is pushing toward its goal of $5.5 million.
Volunteers like Mildner and his team are the ones who will ensure St. Michael is able to carry out its mission for decades to come, Father Mayo said.
“I know a few things, but I don’t know everything,” the priest said. “Luckily, I have the greatest advisors.”