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.

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 eaterpdx.com 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.

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.