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.

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.