Williams Rising

Williams Avenue has seen dramatic change over the last several years and seem to be about to   experience a whole lot more. There is currently one apartment building under construction (The Albert at Williams and Fremont) that wil add 72 units to the area and the same development team is proposing another building between Mason and Skidmore that will add another 84 units. This comes close on the heals of the completion of the EcoFlats, what I believe was an 18 unit project . In the last week we have also learned about a proposal for a New Season at Fremont and Williams. According to the Daily Journal of Commerce the people behind the New Season project are Sierra Construction which is also about to start on Prescott Station, a mixed use project at Skidmore and Interstate. The article indicates that they may be interested in pursuing another mixed use development on the southern half of the block.

 (Proposed Store – East Elevation. Image from LRS via  Pre-application Notice)

It has also come to my attention via the Portland Bureau of Development Service Site that at least one other project is stirring. Ben Kaiser of the Kaiser Group is seeking a rezone from R1d to EXd of the currently vacant lot at the southeast corner of Fremont and Williams for a revived Backbridge Station. The Pre-application intake states that the conceptual design includes a 52,000 square foot, 65 foot tall apartment building with ground floor retail/office and a 15,000 square foot, 45 foot tall building with the same mix. These two building represent another substantial development on the street. It does not take a real estate sage to predict even more development in the near future as property owners in the area imagine how quickly people will snap up apartment that are ” just a stroll away from New Season.”

These development, presuming they all materialize, represent a huge jump in the level intensity on Williams. They collectively will involve filling in many currently empty spaces in the streetscape and extent the core of the neighborhood by a block in either direction. With the addition of potentially several hundred apartment it could also be a real increase in density and a substantial alteration of the current pattern of development from a few one story shops in a single family neighborhood to a more robust strip of four story mixed use building that house hundreds of young professionals.

One of the aspect of the changes that I have watched on Williams that is most fascinating is that it happened in an area that was so seemingly devoid of potential other than location. I am aware of the area’s history as a vibrant center of African American life in Portland, but the result of years of urban renewal and neglect by the city left the area as largely a collection of vacant lot and small industry with a smattering of small businesses and institutions. It lacked the collection of ready to remodel old beauties like Mississippi, Belmont, or other Eastside areas that have experience redevelopment. But as we know, the first three rules in real estate are location, location, location and with the forces of gentrification working on all the adjoining neighborhoods it made the area seemingly ripe for development. Still, it took some vision on the part of early investors such as Thad  Fisco and John Kellogg of Adaptive Development Co, the force behind the remodel of the buildings that now house Pix, the Fifth Quadrant and Tasty and Sons. Their early projects seemed to have set off development in the area and in many ways set the tone for it. They had the vision to see that some nondescript old warehouses could be transformed into vibrant spaces that could draw people from though out the city. One thing the Fisco/Kellog duo seem to have a knack for is carefully curating their projects so as to create something special, something that is Portland at its best. The first wave of development on Williams seemed to be composed mainly of small business that while out of many peoples price range at least provide something unique and of quality. What I will be curious to see is if the developers behind this next wave have the same vision and discerning eye or whether a Quiznos is in Williams future. Let us hope the former.


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