I currently am down in Oldtown/Chinatown almost every day attending school in the building shown above. The area always strikes me as so full of under realized potential: its location, its history, its character and mix of people who live and work there. I recently saw John Jay, an Executive Creative Director at Wieden + Kennedy, speak at the Portland Monthly sponsored Bright Lights speaker series. He has a deep interest in Oldtown/Chinatown on a personal and business level and a vision of the area as a center of Portland’s creative culture and entrepreneurial economy as well as Portlands connection to modern Asia. He sees it as a key piece of what he calls Portland’s creative corridor that stretches from the Ace Hotel in the West End to the White Stage Block and passes by many of the key business (Wieden + Kennedy, Ziba, etc) and institutions (PNCA, Art Institute, Pearl Galleries, etc) as it snakes its way through Northwest. He has also put his money where his mouth is and is part owner of Ping, a pan-asian restaurant at the corner of NW 4th and Couch Street and the Grove Hotel redevelopment.
As for the Grove Hotel, as reported in the Oregonian and DJC John Jay and his wive Janet, David Gold (who owns most of the block as well as other Oldtown/Chinatown Properties), Howard Davis and Alex Calderwood of the Ace Hotel are planning to remodel the decrepit building at NW 5th and Burnside into new retail spaces and a Asian themed youth hostel. He said they are trying to make sure that is is something unique and special that can serve as a hub for the neighborhood and a catalyst much like the Ace did for the West End while at the same time costing about $30 a night.
Several other projects in the neighborhood bode well for its future. The big one is the renovation of the Globe Hotel at NW 1st Avenue just across Couch from the White Stage Block, home of the University of Oregon’s Portland campus, into the new home for the Oregon College of Oriental Medecine. When it is completed sometime later this year it will bring some 260 students and 100 staff to the area according to the Oregonian. Already with the addition of the University of Oregon several business have sprung up to cater to student including a sandwich shop and cafe. In addition, the U of O has been enlarging it presence in the area including taking more space within the White Stage complex and expanding across the street the space under the Burnside Bridge next to Max stop.
Now if there were only more residents in the area…. and there will soon be. According to the Daily Journal of Commerce the Rich Block at the northwest corner of Couch and 2nd Avenue is going to be transformed by Innovative Housing into 34 200 to 400 square foot apartments aimed at young adults. Additionally, the Everett Hotel building at the corner of NW Broadway and Everett is being converted from what I believe was SRO units into 18 small apartment that are presumable aimed at the same market. While these two projects are relatively small they are important step in the path to the neighborhood realizing it potential.
I hope that the projects discussed above represent just the beginning of a more widespread rebirth of Oldtown/Chinatown. I see the potential and I also see businesses struggling: from the mostly empty chinese restaurants to the departure of the Woodlands, an independent fashion retailer, to the West End. But with the growing energy around Ankeny Alley on the south end and the Park Blocks on the West thing seeming to be working towards a steady if not radical improvement in the area’s fortunes. With the addition of new visitors, more student and a greater number of residents maybe this will be the beginning of the neighborhood’s renaissance. Let us hope so.