Reinventing Portland's West Park
Daily Journal of Commerce (Portland, OR)
Jan 12, 2006
by Kennedy Smith
Some are dubbing it the West Park Cultural District, the enclave in Southwest Portland that's home to the Portland Art Museum, the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, a seasonal farmers market, Portland State University and the under-construction Eliot Tower.
But for those who have spent years developing the Cultural District, there are memories of a neighborhood rife with alcoholics, drug users and low-income or no-income individuals patronizing businesses from head shops to porn shops - hardly a place to find culture.
You can see people go into the convenience store, buy a crack pipe, go to the door of Jefferson West, procure drugs, go to the porn shop down the street, then back up to the building, all on city- owned property, said Mark Fraser, senior vice president at GVA Kidder Mathews and a development partner of E&F Properties for a proposed revitalization of the neighborhood's low-income Jefferson West apartments.
Other Southwest developers take a less dire view of the neighborhood. The neighborhood is definitely changing, said Fraser McColl, a Vancouver, British Columbia-based developer who along with partner Don Charity built the Mosaic, an eight-story mix of lofts and retail space. We looked at it from an outside perspective, and the bones were there. Everything happening there now complementing the neighborhood. Sure, it was rough in a way, but you can walk into town in three blocks along one of most beautiful neighborhoods in the United States.
Either way you view it, there's no doubt that development is booming in what the Portland Development Commission has defined as the South Park Blocks Urban Renewal Area.
During a PDC board of commissioners meeting Wednesday, Fraser, of GVA Kidder Mathews and E&F, said: We've identified this as a cultural district, and we think the neighborhood could get a lot better. Fraser is appealing to the PDC to support the project.
E&F Properties has plans to completely renovate the Jefferson West Apartments, an affordable housing complex between Southwest 11th and 12th avenues on Jefferson Street. E&F hopes to buy the PDC- owned complex and replace it with market-rate, mixed-use residential units.
However, according to Fraser, the development team will not attempt to throw out Jefferson West's current residents. Rather, E&F Properties hopes to rebuild the site into higher-quality studio apartments and offer social services, he said.
The apartments are filled with a hard to house population, according to John Warner, senior development manager at the PDC. These are low-income, no-income, special needs people with drug and alcohol issues that require special services.
I'm hopeful that it will lead to getting residents to have more productive lives, said PDC board member Bertha Ferran.
E&F, in partnership with GSL Properties, proposes developing a new affordable housing project to replace the Jefferson West's low- income housing units. The project would be financed with a combination of 9 percent low-income tax credits, Oregon Affordable Housing Tax Credits, private funding and PDC financial assistance, estimated at $3 million.
As they are now, E&F says, the housing units are in poor condition, with studios ranging from 115 square feet to 300 square feet, shared bathrooms and kitchen facilities and no exterior common spaces.
E&F hopes to create a complex of individual units using higher- quality materials.
If the project is deemed feasible, and after an independent appraisal of the property, E&F will seek PDC approval this spring.
The current Jefferson West site is between 11th and 12th Avenues on Jefferson, across the street from a Plaid Pantry store. The second site would be along 11th Avenue behind the Jefferson West Apartments.
The development concept explores the option of renovating the existing structure
, providing new storefront, metal canopy, lighting and refurbishing the exterior brick walls, a study by the prospective developers states.
The site would include 50 studios, 30 one-bedroom units and two two-bedroom units.
Tenant displacement shouldn't be an issue, according to Fraser.
He said that during rehabilitation of Jefferson West Apartments, tenants would be moved into a building at 11th Avenue, a second site slated for rehabilitation.
E&F has recruited Ankrom Moisan Associated Architects to design the project.