Rapaport has undertaken only two projects (both designed by Holst Architecture) in four years—the 27-unit Belmont Lofts on Southeast Belmont Street and 35th Avenue and the 27-unit Clinton Condominiums on Southeast Division Street and 26th Avenue.
But each has gotten recognition for innovative design as well as criticism from neighbors for being out of touch with its surroundings.
Regardless of who’s right, the 47-year-old Rapaport along with a handful of other small developers and local architecture firms have undeniably helped to make building design in Portland bolder and bigger today than several years ago.
As Rapaport breaks ground this month on his third project—the 32-unit Sun Rose Condominiums on East Burnside Street and 28th Avenue—WW talked with the developer about his future, which could include Portland landing its first new large-scale rock venue in years.
WW: Why doesn’t Portland—unlike Seattle, Minneapolis and San Francisco—have new projects by world-famous architects?
Randy Rapaport: The last really good building done at that level was the Art Museum in 1932. And they had a hard time with that because of similar issues—namely, not wanting to be bold. Then, when the Portland Building was built [in 1982], the city got hurt. It’s a selfish building. It doesn’t feel good inside. Michael Graves didn’t do well on the interior. It was a failure. This idea of celebrity architects: There’s distaste because we tried it once and it didn’t work.
Doesn’t that make us less dynamic?
Look at the history of Portland. In the old days, if you wanted to go for it, you went to San Francisco or Seattle. Cities have a tone of what they were 100 years ago. Portland, for example, was a lumber city and not that dynamic. The brightest moment that Portland ever had was in 1905 when we had the World’s Fair. That was our last great moment.
Is it fair to say you’re a gentrifying force?
When the first artist moves into a neighborhood, or a gay couple—that’s when gentrification begins.
What do you say to people who get pushed out by your gentrification?
No one gets pushed out by my mixed-use, infill projects. At Belmont Street Lofts there was a plumbing company on that site. Now there are 27 new vertical homes and 4,000 feet of retail with more than a few new jobs created. What’s more, I sold the condos for an average price of about $240,000. It would be hard to find a house for that price near this project. By providing 27 residences close-in, one could argue that the supply of housing in the area increased. Perhaps in my case it should be called “reverse gentrification.”
What are you going to build on the land you have across from the nursery on Mississippi Avenue?
I’m actually selling it. I was looking to develop a village for the arts in general and music. Financing didn’t come through, and the scope of that project was bigger than my ability. A couple of weeks ago Wieden & Kennedy rented the place from me for their Founders Day event, and the Beastie Boys were there. It was awesome. One of my goals is to build a large music venue. I’m working on doing that.
Where are you looking to site that venue?
I’m working on that.
Could Portland support another venue?
We don’t have a great venue. We don’t have a large venue with good sound. It’s like having a coffeehouse without good coffee. A couple of days ago I went to the Modest Mouse show in Seattle—at the Paramount. I realized that the Paramount Theatre in Seattle is what the Schnitzer is in Portland. Look at how the Paramount is being used. It’s being used like the Warfield is being used in San Francisco—as a concert hall where the floor is for standing. When Modest Mouse is here, they play four nights at the Crystal Ballroom. That’s not very efficient. I had this realization that we should take back the Schnitzer.
Why live in a condo?
I think that condo living is an intelligent cultural transition that’s good for density. It’s very efficient. In my building, there will be two 100-gallon water heaters for 27 homes. Think about how efficient that is. Take my project on Division, the Clinton. One boiler will heat the building so efficiently that the entire heat bill will be wrapped into the HOA fees. I’m the only guy who’s doing that in town, as far as I know. It’s becoming a trend to talk about eco-sensitivity, which is how you use energy. It’s about reuse, efficiency, land-fill and conservation. A building like mine speaks to many of those points.
What are your motives for developing buildings?
I believe these mixed-use, low-rise, high-design, eco-sensitive buildings are probably the greatest things I can do using my skill set right now. But there’s a good chance I’ll be doing something different in a few years.
Other than development?
I may want to develop something else other than a luxury condo building, like very affordable workforce housing that would be individually owned.
Is it going to be possible in the next few years for younger people to buy housing in this town?
It’s going to be tough because of land prices, costs of building. The costs are going up.
Have your profit margins increased?
They’ve actually tightened. It’s getting tougher to build and make a profit. The bottom line: There’s going to be less supply at higher prices. It’s not good. Owning a home is becoming unaffordable. I and other developers are looking at how to bring workforce housing—smaller, efficient spaces that people can own—to Portland. The idea of gentrification—I want to do reverse gentrification. I want to offer affordable housing in desirable areas to creative people. And they would own it.
Is the Clinton LEED-certified?
It’s not. It costs about $60,000 to do it, and I’d rather put that money into the building, into the radiant heat.
What do you think of LEED?
The good thing about LEED is that it sets a baseline. It does a lot of good, but I would prefer to take my resources from my smaller projects that I would have put into a LEED sticker and put it into the building.
City Commissioner Dan Saltzman has proposed that all Portland buildings be LEED Silver or higher. Is that counterintuitive?
I think it would mean that some projects don’t happen. That $50,000 or $75,000 for LEED could be the difference. Requiring LEED will reduce the number of small projects and affordability. I do believe that my projects would meet LEED Silver if we went through the process. They would also be more expensive. If I were to do a larger building, I would shoot for LEED Gold...like workforce housing.
What other ideas do you have for Portland?
Each year I want to do a civic event for the alternative community. This year I want to have a Flaming Lips immersion. You have an artist—it wouldn’t have to be a musician. I want to bring an artist to Portland and have them be immersed in the city. It means they spend time here, and lecture, teach—do things that they don’t usually get to do. Maybe they have never been asked. For example, if the Flaming Lips came to town...imagine rockers coming into the musical high school in Portland for two or three hours and visiting the music class...create a dialogue.
What’s your take on Randy Gragg leaving The Oregonian?
It’s not good for Portland culture to lose him as a writer for the O. Even if we didn’t always agree with him...at least he was a voice.
Rapaport’s hoped-for music venue would hold about 2,000 people. The Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall’s capacity is 2,776; the Crystal Ballroom’s is 1,500.
The Sun Rose Condominiums will replace the former Hungry Tiger restaurant.
Rapaport is considering a move to New York City, but would continue his projects here.