It’s a hot time in Old Town
Daily Journal of Commerce
by Alison Ryan
The redevelopment of Old Town/Chinatown has been a one-step, one-project-at-a-time effort for years. But as future projects line up, the area is now running toward redevelopment.
“When we signed the University of Oregon, that lit the match that lit the fuse,” said Craig Kelly, the Venerable Group vice president who brokered the deal that will bring UO’s Portland Center to the White Stag block in a $31.6 million redevelopment. “Now, it’s really on everyone’s radar screen.”
Latest in the development string is an effort by Beam Development and Bill Naito Co., announced last week, that would redevelop up to 500,000 square feet within a nine-block area bordered by Naito Parkway, Southwest Ankeny Street, Northwest Fourth Avenue and Northwest Davis Street. Oregon College of Oriental Medicine has committed to site its graduate school and intern clinic in about 30,000 square feet of the space. And Ankrom Moisan Associated Architects, which is executing the master plan for the blocks, is exploring moving its 275-employee architectural firm – the 41st largest in the world – from Southwest Macadam Avenue to the area, too.
“We’re going to get people to start looking at Burnside not as the Berlin Wall but as the gateway to another district that’s lively and vibrant,” said Pete Eggspuehler, director of real estate development for Beam.
Developers, working within finite boundaries and with limited property availability, are looking hard at the district, Kelly said.
“Lots of big players are rediscovering, or have decided, that Old Town is on its way up,” Kelly said. “There’s limited space left in the city, and we’re kind of being squeezed from the (central business district) and the Pearl District.”
Other developers have plans for district
A mix of historic properties and surface parking lots make up the fabric of Beam and Bill Naito Co.’s nine-block Old Town site. The development goal, Eggspuehler said, is a mix of workspace, living space and retail space that would be affordable – not subsidized – to work-force residents and smaller commercial businesses. Ankrom Moisan and Beam expect to have initial concepts for the properties ready for neighborhood review by mid-summer and final plans finished by mid-fall, and hope to begin construction as soon as possible. Ideally, Eggspuehler said, the entire complex would be finished within five to seven years.
Other developers have big plans too. David Gold and Howard Davis control the Goldsmith Block, four buildings between Northwest Fourth and Fifth avenues and West Burnside and Northwest Couch streets that now house primarily artist studios but could be a future large multi-use project. Gold and Davis also own the Chinatown parking lot property between Northwest Fourth and Fifth avenues and Northwest Couch and Davis streets.
The team had a “false start,” Gold said, when the Pacific Northwest College of Art decided not to site a new building on the Chinatown parking lot. PNCA in 2006 issued a request for proposals for the possible relocation of its campus; Gold and Davis teamed with Gerding Edlen Development Co. with hopes of moving the college to the lot but lost.
And although Gold thinks it’s just a matter of time before something happens on the site, the lot’s 40,000-square-foot size makes finding an appropriate project tougher.
“Developments of that size don’t come around every day,” he said. But, Gold said, the Naito project may be the push the neighborhood needs. “It gets you to the critical mass,” he said.
The project push could sweep Portland’s homeless out of the district. The neighborhood, which holds Portland Rescue Mission, Union Gospel Mission and Blanchet House of Hospitality, is a destination for homeless citizens. Does redevelopment mean displacement?
“Absolutely not,” Beam’s Eggspuehler said. “The mantra that we keep using is dilute, not delete.”
A host of factors add to the Old Town/Chinatown appeal. The area’s a target within the Portland Development Commission’s Downtown Waterfront urban renewal area, and the agency’s invested planning and funding into projects such as an area market analysis and a $5.35 million effort that turned Northwest Third and Fourth avenues between West Burnside and Northwest Glisan streets to create curb-less, closable-to-traffic, pedestrian-oriented festival streets. The area has good floor-area-ratio and height allowances – with before-bonus tops at 9-to-1 floor-area-ratio and 350 feet of height – that make high-density development possible.
Developers say that a fusion of the Pearl District and Old Town/Chinatown will happen along the Broadway seam, but they believe the work they’re doing doesn’t mean another Pearl.
“The last thing we want to do is scrap it and build another Pearl,” Eggspuehler said. “Sometimes people get scared that it will happen, but I don’t think the neighborhood would let it happen.”