High on the South Park Blocks
Development - Another construction crane is soon to rise on the central skyline, this time for the 21-story Ladd Tower condos
Thursday, May 18, 2006
A forthcoming building will bring the first substantial new housing to the South Park Blocks since the late 1980s.
But unlike the thick midrise apartment buildings of the '80s, the early 21st century is bringing . . .
What else? High-rise condominiums.
Construction will start this fall on the Ladd Tower, a 21-story condo building rising above Southwest Jefferson Street and Park Avenue.
It will be among at least 16 high-rise condominium towers planned or being built in and near downtown, including four in the South Waterfront development.
Distinguishing the Ladd Tower project are its location -- where it will soar above the park blocks' elm trees -- and its focus on historic preservation. The Ladd Carriage House and the First Christian Church building on the block will survive, even as the development adds 20,000 square feet of space for church activities and four floors of parking.
The Ladd Carriage House, built in 1883, is considered one of the most important historic buildings downtown. It's the last remnant of the mansion of William S. Ladd, Portland's fourth mayor and one of the city's foremost businessmen and philanthropists.
"Of all the things that I've been involved with, the fact that I'm participating in a project like the Ladd Carriage House preservation, I get real tripped up about that," said John Carroll, one of two developers on the project.
The Ladd Tower is the latest example of developers leveraging private projects that serve public goals with robust condominium demand. In a complex venture next to PGE Park, the Housing Authority of Portland sold land for a condo tower to Gerding/Edlen Development Co., generating proceeds to build an affordable housing complex on the authority's remaining adjacent land.
The Ladd Tower will realize some of the city's longstanding aims of providing more housing downtown and along the string of parks. The tower will contain about 190 condos.
More high-rise development could be forthcoming if Tom Moyer decides to build condos on a former gas station site at Southwest Broadway and Columbia Street.
Even as the Ladd Tower project protects two historic structures, its architecture has met with some resistance from city planners, who had hoped for more historically authentic design.
The First Christian Church owns the entire block, bounded by Jefferson, Columbia, Broadway and Park. It hired Minneapolis-based Opus Northwest to help build parking spaces for its bustling congregation.
For about a year, the church expected to demolish or relocate the Ladd Carriage House, which houses offices, to make way for new office space and underground parking. One relocation bid, to the Lair Hill neighborhood, fell apart when developers realized the move would require temporarily cutting power lines along more than 20 city blocks and severing the Portland Streetcar line .
Opus partnered with Carroll, of Portland, who suggested keeping the carriage house on-site and installing church facilities in a three-story pedestal at the base of the new building. The carriage house will be relocated to a parking lot at Southwest 10th and Columbia for the first phase of construction before being returned to its original site.
Carroll said he wants the pedestal to help the 240-foot tower fit in with the historic buildings on the block. So he had Ankrom Moisan Associated Architects of Portland design a historic-looking stone structure that would serve as a muscular base for the tall glassy tower.
The construction of a building that looks old strikes some in the architectural field as the wrong way to go.
"Replica buildings can only mimic bygone times and rarely do it as well," said Edward Vaivoda, of Yost Grube Hall Architecture of Portland. "Placing a contemporary building beside an historic structure can be a significant design challenge."
Vaivoda and other critics commended the preservation of the Carriage House, but some lamented the use of an "institutional-looking" base, with arches and thick stones separated by heavy lines of mortar.
Steve Poland, an architect with Ankrom Moisan, said the firm was trying to give the three stories a modern update of a historic look. The design is based in part on the Public Service building, a historic structure best known for first-floor tenant Niketown.
"It's not something that an architect working on their own normally would come up with," Poland said. "We tend to start with trying to keep a consistency of style. The great thing about working with John Carroll is he's very concerned about context, and a lot of modern architects don't give that much prominence in their design."
Say over design
The Portland Design Commission, which has final say over the design and at least one more public meeting this summer, was not entirely happy with a first design draft last month, said commissioner Jeff Stuhr, an architect with Holst Architecture.
"People were underwhelmed with the base as it stood and by the design," Stuhr said. "It was too middle-of-the-road. It needed to be more abstracted or more historical. My own feeling is it was neither one nor the other."
City Planning Director Gil Kelley agreed with the commission. Ladd Tower is an important addition to downtown that will help enliven the park blocks, Kelley said.
But Kelley lamented the loss of the Rosefriend Apartments, a red 1910 building that the developers say must go. Carroll said he is working with Rejuvenation housewares retailer and the Bosco-Milligan Foundation to preserve artifacts in the building, putting some up for sale and preserving the entrance for use in a courtyard on Broadway.
Kelley said the development team should think about mimicking the Rosefriend, rather than the Public Service building, which he said looks like a bank.
"They might want to take some of their design cues from that because it's residential," Kelley said. "There's an urban affinity about that building that doesn't appear in their designs, which is much more monumental architecture."
Dylan Rivera: 503-221-8532; email@example.com