Germany's arts and craft set had Bauhaus; Portland will have 82nd Avenue. Seriously.
Right off 82nd Avenue and Northeast Oregon Street, next door to Hawker's Locker (the type of shop where you can buy a shotgun and sell your wedding ring for cash) and near a busy Taco Bell drive-thru, a rare partnership of civic leadership, private investment and architectural vision is taking shape. The project aims both to create a new kind of cheap live-work community for artists and rescue its busy, surrounding stretch of asphalt from years of neglect and decline.
It's called Milepost Five, and by next fall, this pair of rehabbed buildings—a former nursing home—could house 300 artists, a coffee shop, a performance space, a restaurant, and a gallery, plus services designed to help artists market themselves.
Miles from downtown's big art institutions (but just blocks away from the red and blue MAX lines) sit a pair of buildings that real-estate developer Ted Gilbert noticed were for sale while driving by in 2005. "I thought, wow," says Gilbert, who chairs the Portland Affordable Housing Preservation Trust, which renovates homes so that lower-income buyers can buy them. "I didn't know what to do with [them], but it was a great set of buildings."
Six months later, at a meeting with City Commissioner Sam Adams, who oversees arts programs for the city, the future use became clear. "When Sam asked me to consider building affordable live-work space for artists, I immediately thought of the property," says Gilbert.
Within a few months, Gilbert and PPT had teamed with developer Brad Malsin, the man behind the Eastbank Commerce Center, and purchased the property for $2.8 million. Commissioner Adams, Malsin and architects Carrie Schilling and Bill Neburka of Portland's Works Partnership Architecture—designers of East Burnside's bside6 building—signed on, and Milepost Five, named for its proximity to downtown, was born. Before the project's public open house this Thursday, Nov. 29, WW toured the in progress facility, the first phase of which is slated to "open" by February, to find out what designs its creators have on the arts.
The project's construction is split into two stages. Phase One is 54 loft-style live-work condominiums designed for working artists and priced well below market rate.
Phase Two is more ambitious. Gilbert and Malsin say it will include inexpensive apartments, an exhibition space, a community garden, practice space for musicians and studios. If the experiment works, its backers say the artist-community model could be replicated citywide. And, because the project was purchased by Malsin and the nonprofit PPT, it won't cost taxpayers a penny.
Because MP5 is meant to be affordable, its units' rate of appreciation is capped based on the Consumer Price Index (condo flippers, stop reading here). In other words, buyers can earn equity and enjoy the tax benefits of home ownership, but can't resell the unit at a new, higher market rate. "We want the units to remain affordable for the next artist," says Malsin. In spite of the cap, which seems like real-estate suicide, more than 10 units are already reserved, including two by PDX artist Jaysun Spieth. The photographer and landscape designer says he was drawn to the community element of MP5: "I believe in this community, and I believe in these guys."
Phase One transforms a drab three-story brick building constructed in 1959 into loft-style condos. A fourth floor of penthouse suites has been added, and the units range from 450 to 850 square feet, prices starting from $99,000. Designed as live-work lofts, floor plans are open, with tall 12-foot ceilings, concrete columns, exposed piping, and full walls of windows. The same type of space in the Pearl would set an artist back $300,000 or more.
The Baptist Manor Nursing Home was built with wide hallways to accommodate rolling carts and wheelchairs. Reborn as Milepost Five, these hallways (8 feet across) will double as roomy art galleries and pedestrian corridors where the public can mingle with artists near their studios.
The top two floors of the second building will include 69 rental units, which Malsin said could start as low as $250 per month. Some are small studios with shared bathrooms and kitchens, as well as other, large one-bedroom en suite units. The ground floor houses 9,000 square feet of commercial space, the future home of a restaurant, coffee house, conference room, exhibition space and a performance venue, all of which, says Malsin, create opportunities for artists to create within their community and be involved with a creative project where they see fit. Commissioner Adams is working with local nonprofits so MP5 has access to artist-mentoring services.
During a MP5 construction party in late August, musicians and performance artists took to the stage of a tiny indoor amphitheater. In what was formerly the religious sanctuary, 10 or so rows of church pews seat about 150 in an ideal space for musicians, performance artists, and lecturers. Just steps away, a dozen soundproof rooms are envisioned for music practice space.
MP5 RESTAURANT AND CAFE
Architect Bill Neburka points out that MP5's huge commercial kitchen, larger than that of most local restaurants, is fully operational. Hungry patrons will flood an adjacent cafe, designed to spill into the building's inner courtyard for al fresco dining overlooking a community garden that could supply veggies to the cafe—like Rocket without the view.
Milepost Five, 900 NE 81st Ave., will hold an open house 5-8 pm Thursday, Nov. 29. Free. Visit milepostfive.com for details.