Downtown Portland student housing project resurrected
POSTED: Tuesday, July 17, 2012 at 03:36 PM PT
BY: Reed Jackson, DJC
Previously derailed plans for a large student housing project on Southwest Jefferson Street are resurfacing with the help of a new developer.
Opus Northwest originally proposed the 18-story, 380-unit high-rise building in 2008, but the project stalled when the company went bankrupt and left Portland in 2010. Now, Capacity Commercial Group, which partnered with Opus on the project’s original proposal, is trying again, this time with Arizona-based developer Phoenix Development Co.
Capacity decided to take another shot at the project because of the rising enrollment of nearby Portland State University, said Brian Owendoff, Capacity’s senior vice president. The school currently has close to 30,000 students, the most out of any university in the state. By 2030, that number is expected to inflate to 50,000.
“What is continuing to happen is there is demand for well located, purposed-built housing for PSU students,” he said. “(This is) will provide that much-needed housing.”
Capacity chose Phoenix Development because of the latter company’s success with developing student housing projects in the past, Owendoff said. Additionally, the company has access to large sources of public and private capital, which would be useful in developing a project that could cost upward of $50 million, he said.
The unit prices would be on the high end of the student housing scale, which means most of the students living in the building would be upper classmen or graduate students, Owendoff said.
Those students would be in close proximity to both the streetcar and campus, which is three blocks away from the project’s proposed 16,860-square-foot site, located between Southwest 11th and 12th streets.
Even with higher rents, Owendoff thinks the building would address the needs of PSU students looking for housing. The Ladd Tower, a project Owendoff helped develop in the area in 2009 when he worked at Opus Northwest, has succeeded despite the lofty prices of its units, he said.
“This project provides another price point in the market,” he said. “On a price-per-bid basis, we will be very competitive with newer-constructed, purpose-built housing.”
Project officials believe the building would also benefit the Central Business District, as well as the city as a whole. By adding 450 students to the area, local businesses could see a noticeable increase in foot traffic.
Additionally, the building would be the first large-scale project completed within the city’s newly created Education Urban Renewal Area. It could provide $500,000 of real property tax revenue annually to the city, and some of that could be used toward other future projects in the URA, though it is unclear how much would be devoted.
“It will be one of the first (contributors to the URA) and one of the larger ones,” Owendoff said. “A lot of the properties in the URA are owned by nonprofits that typically don’t pay property taxes.”
The project’s site is currently owned by the Portland Housing Bureau. Earlier this year, Commissioner Nick Fish said the PHB would negotiate with developers of student housing projects within the URA to potentially add affordable housing units to their projects. However, even though Capacity Commercial will be acquiring the site from the housing bureau, there have been no talks about adding affordable housing units, Owendoff said.
The site’s small size could present construction challenges, according to Steve Poland, principal at Ankrom Moisan Associated Architects, which designed the project.
“We’ve got a 250-foot-long block line with adjacent buildings that are very close,” Poland said. “Getting the plan to work with that close of a proximity to buildings is the primary challenge.”
Fitting all of the building’s amenities – bike storage, a workout facility, ground-floor retail and multiple social activity spaces – into the design wasn’t easy, Poland said.
The hard work on the project’s design isn’t over yet, Poland added. It’s still early in the design phase and the project has yet to undergo review by the city’s design commission. As a result, the biggest challenges may still lie ahead, he said.
If the project continues to move through the design process, construction is set to begin in January 2013 and finish by the beginning of the 2014 school year.