It's entirely tentative—not even a Formal Project yet. But a developer's well-developed push to build a large apartment complex around and atop the site of one of Portland's iconic dive bars—the lodge-looking, historic landmark Club 21—appears to be gaining a bit of notoriety in a town spooked, of late, by harrowing tales of demolished history and vanished culture.
This morning, the blog Portland Preservation lamented the storied bar as a "potential" target of developers—in the middle of a post also lamenting the teardown trend coursing through the city's neighborhoods, including Laurelhurst, and the apparently singular power of wealthy white residents to raise the required cash to fend that onslaught off. (Hat tip to Blogtown pal Melanie for the link.)
On another note, just down the street is another possible demolition—not of a house, but of one of the few remaining buildings from the era when Sandy Blvd. was dotted with quirky architecture. Club 21, a sort of dive bar at NE 21st and Glisan (just off of Sandy), is faced with possible demolition as plans are in the works for that entire block to be redeveloped with 200 apartment units. It’s perhaps a little-known fact, but this little building was once a second location for Portland’s historic Jake’s restaurant—just as the Great Depression hit Portland in the early 1930s.
Maybe it's because the Mercury staff spent years drinking there after deadline (or lunch... or breakfast...) before we moved downtown in 2011, but we took note and made some calls. That demolition is indeed possible. But maybe not any time soon—despite an upcoming city hearing this month on the proposed apartment complex.
One of Club 21's two owners, Marcus Archambeault, says he's aware that someone wants to build where the bar sits. But he's also not panicking.
"We have a 15-year lease and we're two years into it," he says. "There has been some movement, some preliminary development plans for the space, but we're not going anywhere."
His confidence comes even as the city's Design Commission plans to take up the proposal July 24 at a design review hearing—an early, voluntary step in the construction and zoning approval process. Design reviews identify informal issues with projects before developers endure a more formal "land use review"—a review that digs even deeper into city zoning code requirements on the way to a building permit.
That proposal comes from the property manager for the bar's landlord, ScanlanKemperBard, or SKB—an outfit with a footprint in two states outside Oregon. For what it's worth, it already looks pretty detailed, with drawings, a name (Jantzen Apartments, close to nearby Jantzen LLC), and everything.
The Daily Journal of Commerce first reported the potential apartment complex back in mid-May, albeit with a glancing reference to Club 21 (which has operated with that name, under two previous owners, since 1958) as a "small commercial building."
Messages left with neighborhood advocates and an official at SKB have yet to be returned. What SKB says may prove especially interesting, given the wrinkle of the lease. (And also the presence of a neighboring helipad on the roof of KATU's studios. Six stories? And a helicopter? Yeesh...) Maybe there's enough money at stake that minds and contracts might be persuaded to change. Or maybe they're just planning to patiently wait out the clock—no matter that 12 years or so is an eternity in the world of development.
Update 1:45 PM: Todd Gooding, president of SKB, phoned back with some more information. He confirmed the bar's lease is, in fact, a secure and real thing, as Archambeault indicated. He also said the proposed apartment complex definitively isn't meant as a viable project—it's a way to test the waters for what might be possible if SKB eventually decides on a formal project.
In fact, he says, when SKB began serving as general partner in a ownership group including Jantzen LLC, the property's official owner, the idea was to leave the space around the bar for parking.
But others kept approaching SKB and asking if they might sell the land and put up apartments. And that got the company thinking about how they might arrange and value any eventual transaction. Putting a hypothetical project through the design process would let them see what's permissible, from an architectural standpoint, and what isn't.
"There have been no decisions one way or the other about Club 21," he says. "This is merely an exercise to figure out how to get the highest use of the property."
Gooding says wants to promote the Kerns neighborhood after years of the place feeling overlooked—and now sitting in the shadow (this part's my two cents) of nearby NE 28th and E Burnside. SKB is close to announcing a "head-turning" tenant in the old Jantzen Park offices nearby.
"We love that neighborhood," he says. "We want to preserve that neighborhood and we want to preserve the character of that neighborhood."
Something he insists will hold true even if, someday, that neighborhood no longer includes Club 21.