For the past year, the Portland Development Commission (PDC) has been considering overhauling a five-block site of crumbling buildings and underused space near the Burnside Bridge. Although the geographic spread of the site is relatively small, its significance for the future of the city's eastside is enormous. The neighborhood has recently been rejuvenated, drawing in upscale restaurants like clarklewis and a bustling club scene thanks to the Bossanova and Doug Fir. Nearby are family run businesses, vintage stores, and eclectic coffee shops.
This proposed development will serve as a nucleus for east Burnside. It will also function as the most salient link between the city's east and west sides. Moreover, judging from the submitted proposals, it will signal the direction of the city's economy--either towards mega-corporations or towards a more mixed bag of locally owned boutiques.
Last week, the PDC released three proposals for commercial and residential development adjacent to the east end of the Burnside Bridge--proposals that are dramatically different in their scope and philosophy.
On Thursday, the PDC will host a public presentation of the proposals, and then on Monday, December 13, PDC will present a public forum where residents will have an opportunity to give them a piece of their minds. (Both meetings take place at the State of Oregon Building, 800 NE Oregon, 4-7 pm.) Here's a preview of what to expect.
REMEMBER: It's easier to oppose a Home Depot now when it's just a vexing idea on paper than chaining yourself to a bulldozer later!
Gerding/Edlen--Bringing Home Depot into Our Home!
Gerding/Edlen are the darlings of city council and developers. The firm is currently completing renovation of the Brewery Blocks and is in charge of the OHSU and South Waterfront developments. They're also undertaking the massive renovation of the Armory Building (Portland Center Stage's new venue). To push forward that project, city council backed a $10.5 million loan to the theater company (partially using federal dollars earmarked for the development of low-income neighborhoods)
Gerding/Edlen submitted a proposal with Home Depot at its core. Although Miller Paint, Wink's, and Hippo Hardware--all family run stores--are mere blocks away, Gerding/Edlen pooh-pooh any concerns about the devastating economic effects plopping a Home Depot nearby will have on the mom 'n pop stores. Their report asserts: "Home Depot has demonstrated its willingness and skill in adapting large-format retailing to urban centers such as Manhattan and Chicago."
Opus Development: Anytown, Anywhere
The second proposal's tone is snappy and corporate. Minneapolis-based developer Opus has designed office parks and shopping malls in Texas, Florida, Arizona, and Illinois. Their report shows glossy illustrations of a massive glass-encrusted Lowe's home building center. Ironically, that mega-store would be directly across the river from the "Made In Oregon" billboard.
However, this proposal does set aside space for 385 units of affordable single- and multi-dwelling housing. One-fourth of those apartments would be available for renters/owners below the median income in Oregon.
Beam Development: Keepin' It Real!
The third proposal, from Beam Development, offers the most hope for maintaining a locally owned economy. Led by Brad Malsin, who developed the Eastbank Commerce Center, this proposal sticks close to the small business mentality. The report asserts they "deliberately avoided the typical suburban retail tenants normally associated with large-scale development." They talk about small grocery stores, art museums, and work/live space. (Most impressively, they already have letters of intent from two-thirds of the potential commercial tenants.) "None," their report points out, "are associated with a big box or large chain retailer." They also pepper the proposal with mentions of eco-roofs and solar power.
The proposal directly cautions against mimicking the Pearl District. That remark seems clearly directed at city council and Gerding/Edlen, who have been pushing to replicate the success of the Pearl District elsewhere in the city, although there are no studies indicating that the city can sustain another high-end shopping district like the Pearl.