Downtown Eastside: The future of the Lloyd District

Proposed super block project. Rendering from GBD via the DJC.

During the mayor’s state of the city address at the City Club a while back he announced a major new development for the Lloyd District. Just across from the southwest corner of the Lloyd Center shopping mall Langley Investment Properties is proposing a $250 million dollar mixed use project on a super block site. In the days since the mayor’s announcement local media such as the Oregonian, the DJC, and KATU news have all run stories on the project filling in more details. The site is between NE 7th and 9th and Multnomah and Holladay Streets. It will be 780 apartments and 50,000 square feet of retail in three towers of 13, 18 and 32 stories. It would include the tallest building on the eastside and almost as many apartments as permitted in the whole city last year (852 according to the Oregonian). News reports say the development is working its was through permitting and could start construction at the end of this year or the beginning of next year. With Portland’s vacancy at the second lowest in the country behind New York there is demand. It also seems the team of Langley and American Assets Trust are serious reale state developer/investors who already have a substantial involvement in the city and in the Lloyd District.

Lloyd District and Sullivan's Gulch 1948. Image from William Joseph Gallery.

The prospect of a catalytic development makes me hope that the Lloyd District could move beyond being a mall, a convention center and arena separated by a sea of parking and fast food, and grow into a cohesive whole as an Eastside downtown, or a Downtown east-side depending on your perspective. It has so many of the elements needed to be a vibrant center for the city and create an identity for itself. At almsot 1.5 million square feet the Lloyd Center Mall provides massive amounts of retails and draws thousands of people to the district every year. It, along with adjacent retail outlets represent what must be the largest retail district outside of downtown, especially for national retailers. The near by Convention Center and Rose Garden/Memorial Colosseum both bring thousands more visitors to the area during events. In addition the Lloyd District has what one of the largest concentrations of office space outside the central business district. The Lloyd District/Rose Quarter also is one of the most connected neighborhoods in the city. Four light rail lines traverse the area making access to North Portland, the airport, Gresham and Clackamas very convenient. The area is a short walk or bike ride from downtown or many of the inner Portland neighborhoods. It is also located at the point where I-5 and I-84 meet giving it easy access to major freeways. Starting in Fall 2012 (I think) it will also be connected to the streetcar network linking it to Northwest, Downtown, PSU, the South Waterfront and the Central Eastside. The area has almost unparalleled multimodal connectivity.

Unfortunately there is currently not enough there there to hold all the visitors to the individual elements. After work, or games or conventions people go home. Each major use in many respects stands alone: the mall and all its retails is very inward focused and ignores the streets; the office towers have little to no retail or other active use at the street level and are separated by vast surface and structured parking lots; the Rose Garden and Colosseum are likewise hemmed in by parking, roads and Trimet facilities to exclusion of other uses; the convention center is ringed by auto-oriented fast food and parking lots.

Lloyd District 1960's. Lloyd Center to the upper right. Image from Portland Bureau of Transportation.

What the Lloyd District/Roas Quarter needs most is more development. If the parking lots and fast food could be replaced by multistory buildings that both increase the population of users and engage the street it would go a long way towards creating a more livable neighborhood. Even just taking what exists and orienting it more towards the sidewalk would be a great improvement over the current condition. The mall was open air until 1990 (?) and while fully opening it again might be too radical, it could at least begin to adress the street and provide more external storfronts. The office building could also provide a more pedestrian oriented ground floor uses. Part of the area’s reform process could also involve putting some of the streets on a road diet to create roads that are more pedestrian friendly. Ultimately though what the area needs is to replace parking and single story auto-oriented retail with new places for living and working. With such a central location and heavy investment by the city this area seems ripe for more intensive development. Along with South Waterfront, the North Pearl, the Post Office property and the Conway land in Northwest it is the area of the central city best able to accomodate large scale growth in the central city. As opposed to many neighborhoods, new development here should be far less controversial as most of the area does not adjoin existing historic or sensitive neighborhoods.

The Langley superblock project pictured at the start of this post could be the spark that lights the neighborhood’s fire. The sheer massiveness of it could make it a viable urban piece by itself. Its position between the mall entrance, the streetcar and the MAX could serve to start weaving the neighborhood together as a functional whole. Just by creating a corner of the area that works as an urban place it will strengthen the district and provide starting point from which to build off of. Additionally, if it succeeds it will establish for other investors/developer that urban high-rise development, including residential, is viable in the area. Interestingly, Langley owns other large parcels in the area and could, if this proved viable, opt to develop them as well. Indeed, I believe much of the neighborhood landownership is consolidated into the hand of several large entities who could if they so choose change the neighborhood radically.

The city has also been busy envisioning the future of the area. Currently much planning work for the area is taking place as part of N/NE Quadrant Planning process being undertaken in conjunction with the much larger Portland Plan and Central City 2035 Plan. This city has already released a proposed concept and hopes to have it approved this spring.  It envisions the area as a dense multi-use zone with a strong mix of office, housing and retail. It also lays out a vision of more green space and better transportation network for all modes. As part of the NE Quadrant process the city is rethinking the existing I-5 interchange at Broadway and Wiedler and has come up with a range of options, many of which involve significant reworking of Vancouver/Williams at I-5 and partial freeway caps. They all have potential to change the area and largely for the better. As reported in Bike Portland, PDOT is also currently in the planning stages for a major rework of the bikeways through the neighborhood that could involve turning NE Multnomah Street into the major east-west bikeway by shrinking it from five auto lanes to three and the addition of significant bike infrastructure. PDOT is also in the early stages of design for the Sullivan’s Gulch bikeway, or the Bike Freeway as I like to think of it, a major new trail parallel to I-84.

Milano Apartments. Image from Ankrom Moison Architects.

Already there is at least some small sign of life in the area. At NE 1st and Multnomah the Milano apartment are under construction.  It is being developed by Civitas and was designed by Ankrom Moisan Architects. It is 60 workforce housing units in a modern building oriented towards the young and active. As reported in the Oregonian and Bike Portland, the developer aims to keep the rents affordable and wants to target people who otherwise might not be able to rent in the city. The units are on the small side and it has limited car parking with only 15 car stalls,  but abundant bike parking with space for 50 inside. It is in itself is a small breakthrough for an area that has seen little housing built even during the boom years and hopefully as sign of more to come.

Apartment building at the corner of NE MLK and Multnomah. Image from Google Maps.

Interestingly one of the only recent buildings in the area, the Merrick, is two blocks up Multnomah Street between NE 3rd and Martin Luther King. Developed by Trammel Crow Residential and designed by LEEB Architects, it is a full block six story building with 185 apartments over a commercial/parking base. It was a substantial development that increased the level urbanity for the corner and is is really one of the only places in the area that feels like it belongs in the city. Perhaps because it is the only building for some distance that has pedestrian oriented retail, that portion of it has suffered. Last time I looked most of the space was occupied by offices save for a Subway. Not exactly a landlord’s, or planner’s, dream use of space, but hopefully that will change over time.

Cosmopolitan Point Tower. Image from LRS Architects

There has also been substantial discussion of a new hotel or hotels for the area. Metro has revived discussion of a headquarters hotel for the convention center and Joe Weston has dusted off his proposal for the Cosmopolitan tower and converted it from condos to a hotel scheme. A recent article in the DJC discussed Mr. Westons talk at the CREW luncheon. According to the article during his talk he mentioned this proposal as his latest (and possible last) development. The hotel would occupy a city owned half block parcel along Grand between Holliday and Hassalo. The site was originally intended for the 31 story, 216 unit condo development, The Cosmopolitan, pictured above. Since the economy soured those plans have morphed into a proposal for a 23 story, 312 room hotel. This could mesh nicely with Metro’s renewed interest in a convention center hotel. Regardless, we should know what is going to happen soon enough. Metro was described by the Portland Business Journal as wanting to fast track this project with proposals in by the end of spring and a decision by the end of the year. The interesting thing notes in the article was that they could potentially choose several smaller hotels rather than one 500+ room hotel as originally envisioned.

Additionally on the hotel front the Portland Development Commission has put out an call for proposals to rehab the Inn at the Convention Center, an aging hotel it had bought as part of it’s headquarters hotel efforts. The vision was that it would be transformed into a hipster-cool boutique hotel along the lines of the Moderna in Southwest. They received bids from several qualified parties but I have not been able to find who won and what the status is. Perhaps it could even be on hold as they sort out the new headquarters hotel plan.

100 NE Multnomah. Image from Ankrom Moison Architects.

Potentially waiting in the wings is a large office building and substantial retail/residential/entertainment development. A few years back the PDC chose Starterra/the Schlesinger Companies to develop several blocks it owns north of the Convention Center in conjunction with lands owner by the company. The land is between NE 1st and MLK and Multnomah and Holladay Streets. The proposal was for a two phase project with phase-one being the building pictured above, 19 story office building with more than 300,000 square feet of space designed by Ankrom Moison architects, and phase-two being some undetermined mix of housing and retail. As recently as last 2010 the developer put forward their building as a possible new home for the PDC before it decided to stay put. As far as I can tell it is still alive, just waiting for the market to turn and tenants to appear.

Workforce Housing/Rothko Apartments proposed in 2009 for a site at NE 2nd and Multnomah. Image from Works Partnership Architects.

While I think this project is dead, I could not resist mentioning it. A few years back, 2009 maybe, Randy Rapaport and Steve Van Eck, the developers behind the Belmont Street Lofts and Clinton Condos proposed the Rothko Apartments/Workforce Housing for a PDC owned site on NE 2nd and Multnomah. The design was done by the firm Works Partnership Architecture who won an AIA unbuilt award for it.  Brian Libby did an Interview with the developers and architects on his blog, Portland Architecture. I have heard nothing about it for several years so presumable it is dead, but maybe it is just sleeping. Let’s hope for the later.


Parking in Portland, or Do We Believe Our Own Hype?

A map of parking lots in Portland's central city. Too much or not enough? Taken from

I went to a forum on Oldtown/Chinatown at the MercyCorp headquarter the other day. There was an interesting discussion of the future of the neighborhood and possible scenarios for its growth and redevelopment. One issue that was raised by a neighborhood property owner was the impending lack of parking. I was a bit incredulous. This is a district in the center of the city that is bisected by the MAX in multiple places and served by numerous bus lines. It is also walking distance from some of the densest neighborhoods in the city and has good access by bike along the waterfront. In addition, one of the primary uses of the neighborhood is parking that covers surface lots, fills structures, and occupys gutted buildings. And this neighborhood needs more parking?

For me this begs the question, does Portland believe its own hype? Do we as a city support the idea that Portland is held up as a model for: that mass transit, mixed use development and a strong bike/pedestrian network can negate the need for parking. That is not to say that no one will drive and that there will be no parking, but that it will be limited, especially in the central city where massive investments in trasnit have been made. In many ways the evidence says that we don’t.

Seattle leading the way in transit? The South Lake Union Streetcar passing one of many new building in the area.

At the risk of speaking heresy, I must point out that Seattle, or neighbor to the north has almost twice the rate of transit use as we do – 21% for Seattle versus 12% for Portland – according to Census (via the Sightline Institute). Much of this is simple a function of size and density. The while Seattle and Portland proper are somewhat comparable in size at 608,660 and 583,776 respectively, the Seattle metro is significantly larger than  Portland’s at 3,439,809 and 2,260,000 respectively, or 50% larger. One can assume that with the growth of metropolitan area comes a corresponding increase in congestion. One can see this clearly by just driving in Seattle. It is a vastly more difficult and slow process than driving in Portland. Ultimately people make rational decisions and when driving becomes a pain, people seek out other options i.e. transit. The other way in which Seattle and Portland can be compared is in density. Seattle at 7,361 people per square mile is nearly twice (1.7 x) as dense as Portland at 4,288 people per square mile. Density is what is needed to support transit. It puts people near transit stops making the bus convenient. It creates proximity which in turn supports walking and biking thus reduces the need to drive.

Proposed mixed-use building at 3339 SE Division. Image from DJC.

This brings us back to Portland and a number of projects proposed in Portland’s Eastside neighborhoods that are drawing opposition due to their lack of, or perceived insufficient quantity of on site parking. Recently there have been several proposals for new buildings on southeast Division Street. The two I am thinking of propose 113 new units and no new parking. A 31 unit building at 3339 SE Division is being developed by Urban Development Partners and designed by THA Architecture, a firm better known for its larger scale institutional buildings. The same developer was behind the Reliable and the Move the House mixed use building on the same stretch of Division. Just up the street at 37th and Division an 81 unit building is being developed by Urban Development Group. As reported on by the DJC and the Oregonian this has drawn the ire of neighbors as they fear the effects of all those new people and no parking.  The street is served by the Number 4 bus which comes every 20 minutes (and at peak times  close to every 5 minutes) and heads Downtown. The city has been talking up the idea of the 20-minute neighborhood for the last several years. It is an idea that has existed in planning circles for some time. The concept is simple: people in such as neighborhood should be able meet most of their basic need within a 20 minute walk from their residence, or about 1/4 mile. Division is a street where this is a viable option. There are several grocery stores and numerous other businesses a short walk form either of these projects.  It seems to this observer a fine place to not require parking.

Hollywood Apartment building currently under construction. Image form Myhre Group Architects.

The same situation is occurring in Hollywood where Creston Homes is teaming with Myhre Group architects to build a two 47 unit buildings with no parking – one adjacent to the Hollywood Theater and one at 41st and Tillamook. A recent article in the DJC highlighted neighborhood activist skepticism of the idea put forward by the developer that the new occupants will not be bringing their cars with them. Hollywood, like SE Division, is an area that can live up to the city’s vision for 20-minute neighborhoods. Within a short walk of either project are nearly everything needed for day to day life. The area is also well connected to transit with a MAX stop and several bus routes, as well as being bisected by safe bike routes. Beyond the four project profiled mentioned above, there are numerous other projects at various phases in the development pipe-line that either have no on-site parking or less than one space per unit.

One of the issues associate with building parking is the cost associated with it. Portland, like other successful cities has experienced an increase in housing cost in the central city. New housing in expensive to build and if parking is included it adds greatly to the cost. Building owner do not simple eat the money spent on parking, they pass the expense on to renters and buyers. If we want to create housing that is affordable for the average person, one easy way to do that is not include parking. Below is a list of cost for parking taken from Square Feet, a commercial real estate blog. The numbers are for Silicon Valley so probable a bit high but still in the ball park.

  • Grade-Level Surface Parking – $5,000 per stall
  • Parking Garage Below Building
    • Above-Grade – $40,000 per stall
    • Below-Grade – $60,000-90,000 per stall
  • Freestanding Parking Garage
    • Above-Grade – $18,000 per stall
    • Below-Grade – $40,000 per stall

The chart makes clear that the cost of parking can add up fast.

Part of the opposition to projects that don’t include parking is that currently it is very easy to drive and to park in Portland. I mainly travel by bike but also have a car. Driving is very easy and even if I go downtown I can find an on street parking spot with relative ease. In Seattle or any other big city forget about it, I would not dream of driving into downtown and parking on the street anywhere near where I am going.

Convenience or blight? Surface parking lot at the corner of Northwest Couch and 4th in Oldtown.

The whole issue of parking comes down to if we believe our own hype or not. Do we think it is possible to create a city in which a car is not a necessity, especially in a city that is not enormously dense?  Moving forward we have to decide if we do or not and what we as a city will accept in the way of development.  To put it another way, do we want to be a real city or not. We need to assess our values and decide what we want more: the ability to park with ease where ever, when ever; or, to creating more housing in increasingly dense urban neighborhoods that can support a full range of services. I am not saying that the whole city of Portland would have to be Manhattan, or even Seattle, just that in downtown and along neighborhood main streets and centers like Division, Williams, and Hollywood we should accept greater density and less parking. In many ways this can create a virtuous cycle in which each new building add more people which can support more businesses that in turn make the neighborhood more self-sustaining and walkable which in turn encourages more development. This can be seen on Division. With the addition of New Season now it is more possible to walk and get groceries. This is what will happen shortly on Williams as well with opening of the New Season next year. Even people who live in the adjoining single family areas benefit from such development as they gain new proximity to walkable destinations.

As it stands, much of the city is zoned to allow for development with no on-site parking. The city has also endorsed the concept of creating 20-minute neighborhoods in the Portland Plan that need the sort of infill development described above to function. With the pressure of a low vacancy rate and rising rents we are no doubt in for many more projects of this type. I hope that we learn to adjust. Maybe we will not always be able to park infront of our houses. But maybe instead we we will be able to walk to what we use to have to drive to in the past. And that doesn’t seem like so bad of a trade off to me.

What do you think? Is the lack of parking in new housing developments a recognition by developers of a growing car free demographic or is it a trick to get more building for less money? Does Portland believe its own hype? Should I refrain from pointing out ways in which Seattle is outdoing us?

The future of parking? Bike corral in front of the Bijou Cafe in Downtown Portland. Image from PDOT.

The Past is the Future: The Continued Evolution of the Central Eastside

The mayor is his state of the city unveiled, prematurely apparently, a new moniker for the Central Eastside Industrial Are: Produce Row. The name is supposed to both harken back to the districts past as a hub for vegetable distribution and evoke the future as a place where the economy of tomorrow will sprout and grow. Unfortunately it was launched a bit prematurely and has provoked a backlash from some of the member of the Central Eastside Industrial Council. The rational behind the mayor’s decision was clear: to create a brand for a part of the city that is doing a successful job cultivating the type of small startups that the mayor’s administration is trying to cultivate. There is no doubt the area has evolved past its origins as a place for manufacturing and distribution. The neighborhood is now just as much about creative services and artesian foods.

Central Eastside Industrial District boundaries. Image from CEIC Facebook page.

The development of the neighborhood as an entrepreneurial hub for the city is taking a few more steps forward with the recent announcements of several new projects. The most high profile of this latest crop of development is Stumptown Coffee’s move to consolidate its headquarters and roaster in the Venerable Properties’ MacForce building at 100 S.E. Salmon St. and the adjacent 30,000 square-foot building on SE Main Street. This high profile coffee roaster will be joining other notable food producers including the the collection of artisinal liquor makers at Distillers’ Row, charcuterie pioneers Olympic Provisions and fellow roasters Water Avenue and Coava Coffee roasters.

American Brush Building at 116 NE 6th Avenue. Image from the DJC.

The next project of not is Urban Development Partners plans to rehab the American Brush building at 116 NE 6th Avenue for their new headquarters. If you don’t know UDP they are a small developer that has done some good infill projects around town over the last several years including Move the House Apartments and the Reliable Apartments on Division, both of which were delivered in the depths of the great recession yet seemed to do well. I believe they are also working on another Division Street project at the moment, but more about that in another post. They will be undertaking a full upgrade of the 19,000 square-foot building and using one of its four floors for their office and leasing out the other three.

Salvation Army Industrial Home Building at 200 SE Martin Luther King. Rendering from Venerable Properties.

The last project is Venerable’s plan to spend $7 million rehabilitating the Salvation Army building at 200 SE Martin Luther King.  Working with Fletcher Farr Ayotte Architects and Bremick Construction they plan to turn what is now a rather unremarkable building that does its best to ignore the street into a updated retail and office complex oriented towards creative professionals. The project will add 10,000 square feet of retail and 32,000 square feet of office to the area’s inventory providing a boost to the growing vibrancy.

6th and Couch Apartments. Image from Vallaster Corl Architects.

In addition to the projects above, a six story apartment building designed by Vallaster Corl continues to rise at N.E. 6 th and Couch and Beam should be starting on the rehab of the Convention Plaza Building any day now. Collectively these project just represent a few more step in the neighborhood’s path from downtown’s industrial backyard to its entrepreneurial doorstep. As mentioned in previous post, the gradual recovery of the economy has driven up demand for class B creative space by creative firms, tech startups and light industry such as micro food processors is high and growing. The Central Eastside is a perfect place to fill that need. Business like those can fit into the neighborhood’s existing mix, adding vibrancy while not threatening the presence of industry. The area’s history and industrial character provide an feel that no other part of town has and that many people, myself included, find very appealing. The coming of both streetcar and light rail are going to make the Central Eastside that much more of a hot spot in town, linking it even more tightly with downtown and the residential neighborhood to the east. We can look forward to hearing a lot more from this part of town in the future, especially if anything ever starts to happen at the Burnside Bridgehead site.

Old Northwest Meet New Northwest

Savier Flats Being developed by Mill Creek Residential Trust.

Northwest Portland is one of the city’s most love and historic neighborhood. It is also one of the densest with numerous old apartment buildings covering much of the area, especially east of NW 23rd. With its walkability and charm it is a quintessential Portland neighborhood and what many people imagine when they think of our fair city. It also a neighborhood about to gain a lot of new residents. At least 7 new buildings are some where in the development pipeline, with the two biggest already under construction. Collectively they will add 500+ apartment and over 10,000 square feet of retail to the neighborhood. Let’s meet the new neighbors:

Savier Flats

Already under construction, Savier Flats is the biggest development by far. With 179 units, 130 parking spots (below grade) and 6,000 feet of retail it will have an impact. It is being developed by Mill Creek Residential Trust, a large national developer,and is designed by SERA. It is located on two parcel on opposite sides of NW Savier between 22nd and 23rd. It is to consist of two, four story buildings. The design advice request can be seen here. As you can see from the rendering above it is using a neo-historic style which no doubt helps calm neighbors nerves, but did not stop the Willamette Week from calling it the “eye-sore of the week” before construction even began.

20 Pettygrove

20 Pettygrove. Image from the project website.

Scheduled for completion in May 2012, the 20 Pettygrove is another large project at 90 units. It is designed by William Wilson Architects. More information can be found at the project web site.


D16. Image from Brett Schultz Architects.

At 20 units, the D20 is one of the smaller projects under construction. It it a small infill project at the corner of Davis and 16th on a 100′ x 100′ lot. The architect is Brett Schultz Architects.

23rd and Lovejoy

23rd and Lovejoy Apartments. Image from SERA Architects.

23rd and Lovejoy Apartments. Image from SERA Architects.

The 23rd and Lovejoy is one of several projects being developed by C. E. John company, a Vancouver, Washington based developer/construction/management company. The project consists of 92 units of studio, one and two bedroom market-rate apartments over 2,000 square feet of retail. The project is targeting LEED Gold. There was recently a DJC article about the projects distinction of being one of the only developments approved to use vinyl windows.

1616 NW 23rd

1616 NW 23rd - West Elevation. Image from Portland Design Commission.

1616 NW 23rd - South Elevation. Image from Portland Design Commission.

The next project is also by C. E. John, but this time designed by GBD. It consists of 24 units over 4,500 square feet of retail in four stories. The project includes 18 parking spaces, 17 of which are mechanical parking. The report to the design commission can be found here.

NW Raleigh and 23rd. Image from the Willamette Week

This project is also notable because it is slated to replace a beloved Northwest institution, the New Old Lompoc. The Willamette Week did a blurb on it, which is where the image above came from. I am sure that many a person will be pouring out a little IPA in respect when they start doing demo for this building.

Slabtown Flats

Slabtown Flats. Image from the City of Portland Pre-application conference submittal.

L:ocated at NW Raleigh and 20th is yet another project by C. E. John, but now using Holst Architecture, designer of such notable housing projects as the Belmont Street Lofts, Clinton Condos and, just up the street, the Thurman Street Lofts. The plan as submitted to city is for 40 units in two, three story building and at grade parking for 35 vehicles.

The Sheldon

Not a lot of information on this project, even if it is alive or dead. It is a proposed 62 unit senior cooperative at the corner of NW 19th and Lovejoy. There was a  Portland Business Journal Article about it a while back. They have a website for soliciting new members if you  want more information.

Next up, the Conway land. They have been working their way through the permit system and we will no doubt hear a lot more about that in the future.

Portland’s Low Vacancy Rate Points Towards More Development to Come

Portland Unemployment and Vacancy by Year. From the PSU Center for Real Estate Quarterly-2011

According to an article in Friday’s Oregonian Portland is tied with Minneapolis for the second lowest apartment vacancy in the nation, behind only New York. This data comes from a National Association of Realtors Survey that puts the vacancy in Portland at a shockingly low 2.5%, well below the national average of 4.7%. This is backed up by similar, if slightly differing numbers from other real estate reports from groups such as the PSU Center for Real Estate or Norris, Beggs, and Simpson’s market reports. This is clear to anyone who has looked for an apartment lately as the competition is noticeable. An example of this is the Move the House Apartment in Southeast Portland. Completed in July 2011 by the Urban Development Partners it was fully leased almost immediately while asking Northwest/Pearl rents for its humble Division Street location.

Move The House at 3810 SE Division by Urban Development Partners. Image from UDP website

The Portland unemployment rate has fallen to 8.7%, which while too high is the lowest it has been in three year. The economy both nationally and locally seem to be heading in a positive direction but the area has seen low levels for new apartment construction. According to the Barry Apartment Report permits where issues for only 1,559 units for the year ending in October 2011, up from 1,000 units for the same period a year earlier. For comparison, 4,700 permits were issued per year on average between 2004 and 2009. The Barry report estimates permits wil be issued for 2,000 to 2,500 units next year, substantially more than we have seen since the onset of the great recession, if a lot fewer than before.

This all lead to the prospects of many of the projects we have seen proposed recently actually materializing and being joined by others. More development, especially housing, could help invigorate parts of the city in need of life. Portland as a whole is still relatively un-dense. In 2010 the city had a density of 4,346.8 people/square mile which puts us just ahead of Las Vegas (4,298.6) and well behind such cities as Seattle (7,254.6), Minneapolis (7,084.8) and Los Angeles (8,091.8). This would not be bad in and of itself, but when I look around the city I see numerous neighborhood that could benefit greatly from increased residential density. Areas such as Lloyd Center/Rose Quarter, parts of Downtown, Gateway, and many of the neighborhood commercial strips such as Interstate, East Burnside, Broadway and Sandy could be aided in their revitalization by having more residents. This in addition to part of the city that are on-going development projects such as South Waterfront, the North Pearl and Conway that have yet to be fully built out. In addition, the city has already laid the foundation for long term growth by spending billions on transit and other infrastructure to support more residents and has plans to spend billions more.

Portland Streetcar System Concept Plan. From The City of Portland.

But what about the potential for over-building? The issue was recently raised in the DJC by Creston Homes project manager David Mullens. The article points out that many of the new projects are relatively small and that demand is high. So while the risk always exists, and past real estate practice has been to always over build, the trend now seems sustainable. It is also worth reiterating the current permit trend versus past permit trends discussed above in light of population growth. According to the US Census, from 2000 to 2010 the population of Portland proper grew by 10.3 % or about 54,000 (the equivalent of adding all of Corvalis, Sherwood of Tigard to the city). All of those people need places to live. Presumably the city with its growing national prominence and reputation, west coast location and affordability will continue to experience growth in the next ten years like we have in the previous ten. Barring the unexpected, I don’t see Portland loosing its appeal to migrants any time soon.

The Pied Piper of Portland?

What do you think about the future of development in Portland? Comment with any thoughts about where we have been and where we are going.

Change Comes to the Corner of Sandy and 24th

Tres Shannon’s Portland P Palace. From the website.

Change is coming to the quiet corner of NE Sandy Boulevard and 24th starting with a new concept from Portland’s donut King, Tres Shannon. This will soon be joined by Portland’s developer/rockstar Kevin Cavenaugh’s latest project, the Ocean, and the Glee Apartments from developer Mark Madden and Young Design Studio. This leads me to speculate as to whether this will be enough to start changing people’s perception of Sandy from simple an arterial to drive on to street worthy of driving to.

A recent profile of Tres Shannon in the Willamette Week discussed his new venture, Portland P Palace. In the shell of a former auto service center Tres is creating a fun house of all things P: putt-putt, ping-pong, pool, pizza, perogies, etc. His Voodoo donuts has turned a humble and economical pastry into a thing worthy of a pilgrimage to Portland. I go to school near the original and every day there are people lined up to buy donuts. In a way it can be credited with helping to put Ankeny Alley on Portland’s map. He seems to have a knack for creating excitement and hype going back to the X-Ray Cafe. I expect his latest venture to be nothing less due to the fact that like Voodoo it promises to be truly unique.

The Ocean. Plan from permit application.

Kevin Cavenaugh’s project on the same block, The Ocean, was detailed in a recent article by the DCJ. He is transforming a former auto dealership into space for several micro-restaurants, a bakery and a residence that I believe is for him and his family. The permit application to the city can be found here. In the book, Cartopia: Portland’s Foodcart Revolution, Kevin discusses with the authors the “ocean” of space that exists between conventional restaurants and foodcarts and how that is where he wants to swim.  I am glad to see he is making that vision a reality. In Portland commercial development the concept of micro-retail has not been explored. With the economy what it is and the explosion of food carts it is not surprising that someone is seeking to exploit this niche. He also seems to be doing what many successful place-making developers, such as Adaptive on Williams  Avenue and Project^ in the Black Box Building have done and been very intentional in the selection of tenants. According to the project will feature a burger only concept from the people behind Slow Bar, a storefront version of the food cart Pie Spot, and a meat ball based concept from the owner of Tabla on NE 28th. All restaurants worth a special trip to check out.

Glee Apartment. From the permit application.

The other project taking shape is the Glee apartment as covered in the DJC’s Daily Blog. The project is slated for the southwest corner of NE 24th and Glisan. It is a 3 story 32 unit apartment building with one 500 square foot commercial space and no automobile parking. The permit application can be viewed here. The project is designed by Young Design Studio. The developer is Mark Madden, a rather prolific actor in Portland as of late being behind projects in various stages throughout the city including Overton Building (completed) and Freedom Center apartments (under construction) in the Pearl and the new Miss apartment proposed for Mississippi, all by Fosler Architects.

The interesting thing about these project and what makes them worth writing about is that they all seem to share a similar independent spirit and collectively could create a node of activity from which urban life can grow. New destination restaurants, a bar/spectacle and new residents can alter the perception of an area. As we saw on Alberta, Williams and other evolving areas in Portland, all it took was two or three buildings in close proximity being adaptively reused by thoughtful developers and carefully stocked with a good mix tenants to create a place worthy of visiting. From this small node growth can spread in multiple directions creating a larger mass of activity and spurring a virtuous cycle of redevelopment. Sandy, like Interstate should be a great street due to its role as a key connector in the city, linking the central city to many of the neighborhoods in Northeast. Like other areas in the city, inner Sandy has geography as an advantage: it is close to downtown, it is close to numerous thriving neighborhood and areas such as 28th and lower Burnside that have already been experiencing a renaissance. I have also notice a lot of under the radar activity in the industrial zone north of Sandy in the form of warehouses like the Bison Building that once house machine shops and now house media and design firms. All this could add together to create a Sandy that is very different form the one we know today.

What next for Sandy?

UPDATE: Sadly Portland P Palace is not to be due to unanticipated complications. Too bad.

Back from the Grave: The Return of Transit Oriented Development on North Interstate Avenue

Killingsworth Station. Image courtesy of the Oregonian

Two project along Interstate Avenue long thought dead, Jarrett Street Lofts and Prescott Station, have come back to life and a third, Killingsworth Station, that had been on life support for years was recently completed. Both of which fullfil the intentions of the city and regions investments in light rail to spur transit oriented development in inner Portland rather than greenfield development on the periphery.

According to the Portland Development Commission, the Interstate light rail line and Urban Renewal Area (URA) was designed to:

  • Spur mixed-use development along the light rail corridor and station areas while distributing public investment fairly and evenly among other impacted areas within the district.
  • Create new jobs and housing opportunities for a range of incomes as well as for existing residents.
  • Develop new housing that is transit supportive, compatible with the existing neighborhood, maximizes infrastructure improvements, reuses vacant and underutilized property, and strikes a balance between homeownership, rental, and displacement of existing residents.
  • Create wealth through expansion of existing businesses, fostering a healthy business environment, and generate family wage jobs.
  • Improve transportation corridors to encourage the use of alternative modes of travel, maintain and improve access, create a pedestrian-friendly environment, and mitigate traffic impacts associated with new growth.
  • Promote community livability through strategic improvements to parks, open space, trails, historic and cultural resources, and community facilities.

The rail line cost $350 million and was completed in 2004. Unfortunately, while it was completed in the midst of the condo boom, by the time developers began proposing projects the steam was running out of the real estate market. While a few projects managed to get built, several large projects that were proposed faded with economy. In the years since, the City has adopted the North Interstate Corridor Plan to encourage dense development along the light rail corridor and which allows for buildings up to 125′ tall (about 11 stories) in station areas with design review and special conditions. This creates great opportunity for transforming the relatively sleep and small scale street into a major urban avenue that will help define the area.

What could have been: The Montanas, Proposed at one time for near the Lombard Max station. Image from Myhre Group Architects.

Prior to the real estate crash, only a few projects of any significance to the character of Interstate Avenue got build. They include the Patton Park Apartments (2009) developed by REACH, an affordable housing group, and designed by SERA Architects. The 54 unit mixed-use project was built on land provided by Trimet. The transit agency bought the land to support the development of affordable transit oriented development. Details about the project from REACH can be found here. The other development of note is the Overlook (2008), another mixed-use project consisting of 24 condos over a bit of retail. For more information Brian Libby did a good story on it when it was build that can be found here.

Patton Park Apartments. Image source unknown.

Since the onset of the Great Recession very little building has occurred anywhere, let alone North Interstate, and what has has largely been heavily subsidized. A example of this is Killingsworth Station (pictured at the start of this article) at the corner of Killingsworth and Interstate. It is a four story mixed-use project developed by Winkler Development in partnership with the PDC and designed by Vallaster Corl Architects. The project contains 57 ownership housing units above retails condo space. It only managed to get built due to a very high level of subsidy form the PDC, Trimet  and Metro. I often question the use of taxpayer subsidies for projects that in the end are still not that cheap and do not serve those who might otherwise be displaced. That being said the project is a strong urban addition to the area. It creates a substantial street wall at a key intersection in contrast to the two single-story buildings and a gas station that occupy the other corners. It also brings housing and eyes to the street and, assuming the retail space is ever leased, provides an active and engaging edge to the sidewalk.

Just three blocks to the north the Lofts at Jarrett streets is back from the dead and well underway at the northeast corner of Jarrett and Interstate after many years of promise. The project consists of 30 apartment over almost 2000 square feet of retail in four stories. Like Killingsworth Station it will help to activate the street and reenforce Interstate as a important avenue.

The Lofts at Jarrett Street. Image from the project website.

The second revived project is the Prescott Station at the corner of Skidmore and Interstate. It is of a truly different scale than anything built thus far on Interstate. It is to have 155 market rate apartments over 9,500 sf commercial spaces and underground parking. That would be more housing units that all the other projects mentioned combined and at 6 stories it would be the tallest thing built of the street yet. According the DJC it is permitted and has financing so should break ground in March. The development group is connected to Sierra Construction, which is also behind the proposed New Seasons at Williams and Fremont. The architect is the Myhre Group, who are also designing a number of small infill projects around town, most notable the apartment building under construction next to Hollywood Theater. Prescott Station would be a major milestone fo Interstate and hopefully a symbol of things to come.

Prescott Station. Rendering from the Myhre Group Architects.

Despite all of the investment by the PDC and other agencies in Interstate Avenue, in many ways the street is a failure as an urban corridor. For containing some of the highest capacity transit in the metro region it lack any sort of density – most of the area around the stations are comprised of single family houses or very small scale apartment complexes of two stories or less. It also lacks activity or sense of place that would make it an attractive location to area residents or to visit from outside the neighborhood. Walking the Avenue the experience is lack luster as you pass sad low-slung buildings and single family houses. The street use to be a major corridor into the city as the route for highway 99 through Portland. Now, as a major transit corridor it needs to embrace its role as an important avenue once again. The projects discussed above represent steps in the right direction. Each project fills in a little piece in making a great street. Unfortunately, for the foreseeable future these will be isolated incidents of dense urbanism in an otherwise small scale street. Hopefully these island of urbanism will soon be joined by other projects and gain the critical mass of residents and activity needed to start to feel like cohesive places. Only then will Interstate live up to the aspirations of the Portland Development Commission and its potential as one of the great avenues of Portland.

UPDATE: Another apartment project has been proposed at 5118 N. Interstate, just south of Patton Park Apartments. The details are vague as the information comes from the city of Portland land use intakes. An early assistance request was submitted on February 23rd by Ankrom Moisan Architects, the same folk who designed the Milano Apartments currently under construction down the hill at NE 1st and Multnomah, for a four story apartment building on a site that currently occupied by single family homes.