Sick of Portland Changing? Too Bad. Here Are 7 Places Where This City Could Soon Go Big.

They could radically alter the face of both sides of the Willamette River.

(Rosie Struve)

Portland is in a construction frenzy.

The horizon is thick with cranes: 32 at last count, more than all but four other U.S. cities. As many as 10,000 hardhat jobs remain unfilled, The Oregonian reported last month. Developers will add a projected 6,500 apartments to the metro area this year.

All this change tends to unsettle some Portlanders.

Brace yourselves: Even bigger changes are on the way.

A handful of large-scale projects are expected to break ground in the next five years, and they could radically alter the face of both sides of the Willamette River. They could change Portlanders' commutes, and the jobs where they work. And these few projects could have an outsized effect on the cost of housing.

"One thing we can be sure of: Whatever we think won't change will," says Ethan Seltzer, professor of urban studies and planning at Portland State University.

That may sound like hyperbole. But these proposed projects are big, ambitious and still unformed. If done right, they could help Portland grow into a major U.S. city, make it a national model for transportation, and handle a wave of new arrivals without pushing out people who live here now. If done wrong, the projects will squander a building boom, clog the streets with cars and make this city a playground for the rich.

(Rosie Struve)

"We have a tremendous opportunity to shape entire neighborhoods, improve our economy and continue to put our values around sustainability into practice," says Mayor Ted Wheeler. "We should think big."

None of that future is certain. Some of these projects need champions. Some of them require money. And others—the biggest opportunities of all—are still casting about for the right idea.

In the past month, WW has spoken to more than two dozen planners, architects and city officials. Many of them pointed to the same spots on the map—and said these places could herald a new cityscape.

These could be the seven wonders of Newer Portland. Or the next developments you'll love to hate. Either way, get ready.


(Rosie Struve)

What's the big idea?

Basically, a mini Silicon Valley—a swath of the city dedicated to companies focused on health, science and technology, lining the river on both ends of Tilikum Crossing.

Oregon Health & Science University is awash in a billion-dollar fundraiser by Nike co-founder Phil Knight to find a cure for cancer. OHSU and Portland State University want lab space for startups that grow out of their cancer research and tech incubators.

"We need innovation to stay in Portland," says Erin Flynn, associate vice president of strategic partnerships at PSU, who is spearheading the project.
The state's first and only bioscience-focused startup incubator, run by a group that goes by the catchy name Oregon Translational Research and Development Institute, or OTRADI, has a waitlist of more than 10 new companies that need labs.

The companies at the incubator are working on health tech ranging from new drugs to treat eye disease and stroke to a completely artificial heart.

"It's perfect timing," says OTRADI executive director Jennifer Fox. "Our most pressing need is space for when they move out of the incubator. They are used to being clustered around each other. They have gotten addicted to collaboration."

So OHSU and PSU have joined forces with the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry and Portland Community College. Together, they've concocted an ambitious scheme to take a section of the city with a lot of new development and vacant property, and roll it into one project. They're calling it the Innovation Quadrant.

The four organizations are betting they'll produce enough tech startups—especially around cancer research and genetic engineering—that they can attract developers to build lab space for those companies.

Where would it go?

Ground zero is OHSU's 300,000-square-foot Knight Cancer Institute, under construction in the South Waterfront.

A block away, Zidell Yards just finished welding its last barge—and the Zidell family wants to develop the 30-acre shipyard. (The plans for Zidell Yards currently include 1.5 million square feet of office space, 2,200 residential units and 200 hotel rooms.)

That's at one end of Tilikum Crossing. On the other side, the east bank of the Willamette? A maze of train tracks and vacant lots, including roughly 10 acres owned by OMSI.

The museum board has for years been clamoring for a big development on the Central Eastside and is poised to go to the city this fall with new plans.

Half a block north, Prosper Portland—the city urban renewal agency formerly known as the Portland Development Commission—bought three blocks of parking lots for $2.8 million in June. It wants to develop them into space for light manufacturing and offices.

These sites could hold tech company labs and offices or house their workers.

(Carleigh Oeth)

What could go wrong?

The wrangling of large institutions working together on a project could easily fall apart. They're supposed to formalize their partnership within the next two months, and say how much money they're each willing to invest.

They haven't announced how many buildings they have in mind, who would occupy them, how much they would cost, or where the money is coming from. That's a whole lot of question marks. And the Zidells and OMSI are looking for the highest possible return on their real estate investments.

Observers are skeptical of the basic concept. Without major private capital pledging to invest in the businesses, having a lot of available real estate won't matter.

"We've been down this road before," says Seltzer, who describes what he's heard so far as a real estate play that doesn't have any big-money backing. "It didn't materialize. That's not how biotech is playing out across the country."

What's next?

Already, investors are making the first tentative moves. A private developer, Summit Development Group, is rehabbing a space on Southeast Alder Street into labs. It will open next year. California-based tech company AutoDesk, which currently has offices in Lake Oswego, will next year move hundreds of employees into the nearby Towne Storage building.

The biggest chunk of property is Zidell Yards, and it's not yet clear how sold the barge-building heirs are on the tech dream, though they issue vaguely positive statements. OMSI will ask city planners for advice on its designs this month. Prosper Portland aims to line up a developer by the end of the year.

A firm hired to brand and market the Innovation Quadrant is already at work.


Prosper Portland’s Lisa Abuaf and Kimberly Branam look out over the future Broadway Corridor development site at the central U.S. Post Office. (Thomas Teal)

What's the big idea?

Since the millennium, the city's central U.S. Post Office site has been the white whale of Portland real estate. It blocks the upscale Pearl District from the dingy alleys surrounding Union Station—and city planners see linking those two neighborhoods as the key to smoothing out inequality.

Last year, Prosper Portland—the urban renewal agency—bought the site for $88 million. Having spent lavishly on the property, Prosper Portland is now looking to turn it into an apartment and retail center to match the Pearl (and work as a disinfectant on the squalor of Old Town).

Prosper Portland says that's what will happen: 2,400 new apartments, space for 4,000 jobs, and an office tower zoned to rise as tall as 40 stories.

"It's a once-in-a-generation opportunity," says Prosper Portland executive director Kimberly Branam. "This is a development of regional import."
More interesting to most Portlanders: The agency's plans call for 700 of those apartments to be subsidized as affordable housing.

Where would it go?

The U.S. Postal Service's hulking, drab mail-sorting center sits between the Pearl District and Chinatown, clogging the central city with a shrinking federal agency in a building that has all the charm of a 1960s cafeteria (plus an actual cafeteria). In 2018, the post office will move to a new location near Portland International Airport.

Lisa Abuaf and Kimberly Branam look out over the future Broadway Corridor development site at the central U.S. Post Office. (Thomas Teal)

What could go wrong?

Trying this experiment at the edge of Chinatown could backfire. Or the project could fail to build all the affordable housing units promised.

Observers look at Prosper Portland's grandiose plans for shopping, offices and low-income housing and wonder how the agency will manage it all. Longtime developers say trying to do too many things on one site can mean nothing is done well.

"It's really, really important to do it right," says parking garage magnate Greg Goodman. "You don't allow someone to cut their teeth on a Rembrandt."

What's next?

Prosper Portland is seeking to line up a developer by next year, and to start work on a plan for a site. It's not clear which aspect of the project the developer will tackle first. Prosper Portland expects to take more than a decade to complete the overhaul.


Forest Park (Christine Dong)

What's the big idea?

You may know that Portland contains one of the 10 largest city-owned parks in the country. You might not know that the 5,200 acres of Forest Park contain 52 species of native mammals—like bobcats and mountain beavers—and 100 species of birds, including the largest known pileated woodpecker, standing 1 foot tall.

Why don't you know that? Because there's no visitors' center.
Portland Parks & Recreation has drafted initial designs for a visitors' center that would include short trails and viewpoints, play areas for children, and classrooms for educational programs.

The new entry point would let the parks bureau explain the work it's doing to restore the woods. It has declared war on invasive species, working in the past three years to restore 360 acres of natural habitat from the invasion of blackberry, ivy, holly, clematis and laurel.

Early, preliminary rendering of the Forest Park visitor center completed this year. (Dangermond Keane Architecture)

In short, the Nature Center could give Portland's greatest city park the national park visitors' center treatment—an education for tourists and locals alike about the world they're entering when they hike the Wildwood Trail.

"It's not just a park—it's a complete and functioning ecosystem," says Kendra Petersen-Morgan, a Portland Parks natural area supervisor. "And it's all accessible from a TriMet bus."

Where would it go?

The parks bureau in 2014 spent $150,000 on a parcel of land along Highway 30 and Northwest Kittredge Road, a short drive from the St. Johns Bridge.

What could go wrong?

The project doesn't have funding.

A visitors' center would cost about $10 million to build, parks officials estimate. In 2014, Portland voters passed a $68 million parks bond, but all that money is going to restoring decayed facilities that already exist. The nonprofit that contributes private dollars to the parks, the Portland Parks Foundation, could chip in, or private industry—that's how the Tillamook State Forest's $10.7 million visitors' center was built in 2006.

What's next?

The parks bureau is seeking state money. The state's in a budget crunch, but helped pay for preliminary designs. Parks officials say they're looking for more cash. "It will take funding from many sources," says Portland Parks & Recreation director Mike Abbaté.


Hundreds of new apartments are going into the LloydDistrict and could completely change the neighborhood.

What's the big idea?

Developers are designing apartments near Lloyd Center that could dwarf any housing proposal under review in the central city.

One would build on the parking lot for Lloyd Cinemas—a vaguely depressing Regal multiplex. The project would include 680 apartments and artist live-work spaces. Another, called Oregon Square, could place a whopping 1,100 units atop office buildings. That's a grand total of up to 1,800 apartments and condos—more than the number of homes in the entire Hollywood neighborhood.

"Oregon Square is likely the largest single development in Portland's history," says Iain MacKenzie, who writes the development blog Next Portland. "It's easily conceivable that by the time of the 2020 census, the population of the neighborhood will have quadrupled."

(Holst Architecture)

Portland needs housing on the scale of whole new neighborhoods. Rents rose 44 percent in the first half of this decade—and between 2010 and 2015, Multnomah County added 2.7 jobs for every housing permit application filed, according to data from Apartment List.

Adding density in inner Portland also takes pressure off suburbs farther from jobs and public transit. "Every single home that we build in Portland," says planning journalist Michael Andersen, "is one that isn't being built in Battle Ground, Wash., or Sherwood."

Where would it go?

The Lloyd District is as ripe for housing supply as any spot in the city. It has no neighborhood character to preserve, unless you collect novelty T-shirts from Spencer's Gifts.

In 2010, just 1,142 people lived in the neighborhood. But the Lloyd District has changed dramatically. Developers have opened three new apartment buildings, each with less than 1,000 units—including one with a national record number of bicycle parking spaces: 1,200.

That's not a typo: Lloyd now has more bike parking spots in one building than it had residents in the entire neighborhood seven years ago.

"The Lloyd District got caught in a Rip Van Winkle period," says PSU's Seltzer. "It has emerged. It's adding housing in ways that are pretty striking."

Even as Lloyd Center mall undergoes a face-lift, the rest of the neighborhood could fundamentally change. "It's catering to people driving in for that suburban-mall experience," says MacKenzie. But as more residents arrive, "you are going to get a critical mass." Bye-bye, Wendy's Frostys. Hello, Salt & Straw lines.

Lloyd Center ice rink, prior to renovation. (Roger Bong)

What could go wrong?

Apartment developers are getting nervous about breaking ground on new towers—let alone new neighborhoods. That's because a glut of apartments is about to hit the rental market this October, and investors worry about market saturation.

"Lenders have pulled back," says developer Tom Cody.

At Oregon Square, developer American Assets Trust has sought the option of turning one of the apartment towers into office space, projecting that office space may be more profitable in the near term.

Another, smaller hiccup: Lloyd's car-heavy infrastructure still revolves around I-5 exits (see the next item for a solution).

What's next?

Final permits for the Lloyd Cinemas site and a new plan for Oregon Square. The first of up to 1,800 units won't hit the market at least another year. Lloyd Cinemas, which would move into the mall, could eventually be demolished in favor of 500 more apartments.


(Carleigh Oeth)

What's the big idea?

City planners see an opportunity for a public space as iconic as New York City's High Line—abandoned train tracks that became a romantic pedestrian boulevard.

Instead of train tracks, Portland could turn its streets, or at least parts of streets, into a linear park that would run through downtown and the Central Eastside.
A park like this—forming a circle through central Portland—could also provide bike commuters with a hub through the downtown core, with residential, bike-designated streets fanning out likes spokes on a wheel.

The ambitious project could give Portland the signature cycling and walking path its planners have long coveted. "It's a 21st-century solution," says city planner Mark Raggett.

One key to linking these streets into a circle: bike and walking bridges spanning interstate freeways.

The Portland Bureau of Transportation has studied designs for the first of these bridges. It's called Sullivan's Crossing, and would run over I-84 at Northeast 7th Avenue. It would cost more than $9 million, and connect the Lloyd District to the neighborhoods around Benson High School.

A similarly styled pedestrian and bicycle bridge is part of the massive, unfunded and controversial project to widen I-5 in the Rose Quarter. (A third such bridge, over I-405 at Northwest Flanders Street, isn't on the Green Loop, but it's already funded with $5.9 million.)

"The bicycle and pedestrian connections over our freeways are flat-out dangerous," says Commissioner Dan Saltzman, who oversees the Transportation Bureau. "The Northwest Flanders and Northeast 7th crossings could be a game-changer for Portlanders."

(Image: Untitled Studio)

Where would it go?

The six-mile pedestrian- and bike-friendly park would run in a circle: through the westside along the Park Blocks, over the Broadway Bridge, and down the eastside along either 6th or 7th Avenue to Tilikum Crossing.

What could go wrong?

Critics—including prominent bike advocates—deride the Green Loop as a shiny object that planners can imagine slipping into their portfolios while ignoring grittier problems, like dangerous crosswalks in East Portland.
"It distracts us from the bread-and-butter things we need to do," says Jonathan Maus, who runs the website Bike Portland. "People are getting killed in East Portland right now."

(Carleigh Oeth)

What's next?

Even if all three of the initial bike bridges get funding soon, Green Loop work won't become a reality for another decade.


Advocates are pushing for giving buses their own lanes, starting on the Hawthorne Bridge.(Sofie Murray)

What's the big idea?

Portland would dedicate entire lanes of traffic exclusively to TriMet buses. Then the city would update the technology that allows buses priority at stoplights.

Think of it as another Bus Mall—but across the city, and especially moving east-west.

It's the single transportation project that could "do the most to transform people's lives in the next decade," says Jarrett Walker, Portland author of the book Human Transit.

Bus lanes aren't as sexy as new light-rail lines or a downtown subway.
But those ideas aren't likely to happen in the foreseeable future. They require decades of work and billions of dollars in either federal funding (read: Trump) or local tax measures (read: persuading Clackamas County voters).

So the next step is counterintuitive. Portland needs to make its traffic problems worse, and quickly, at least for cars, so that commuters using public transit get to their jobs more quickly. If we can move buses more efficiently, more people will be willing to ride them.

Where would it go?

Walker suggests starting with places where the most bus riders are affected by traffic—the connection between the Bus Mall and the Hawthorne Bridge along Southwest Madison Street, for example—and working down the list.

What could go wrong?

City leaders could decide to wait for the autonomous vehicle revolution. But self-driving Ubers could create the same gridlock—or even make it worse.

(Sofie Murray)

What's next?

PBOT says it's weighing options for improving a couple of bus routes.
But transit advocates who recently started to organize around the issue say orange cones could start the city down this route tomorrow. They point to pop-up pilot projects in other cities (like Everett, Mass.) that have transformed bus routes quickly.

"I'm concerned that they're going to do an overblown public process and not have the courage to follow through," says Alan Kessler, who founded an activist group called the Portland Bus Lane Project.


The Goodman family are seeking developers to build high-rise towers near VooDoo Doughnut and Pine Street Market. (Carleigh Oeth)

What's the big idea?

Big Pink is lonely. The 536-foot skyscraper (real name: U.S. Bancorp Tower) is the second-tallest building in Portland, the only one with a nickname, and arguably the only skyscraper in Portland worth mentioning.

The Goodman family has a plan to correct that.

It's also a flashy way to market properties his family owns near the Willamette. He calls the 11 sites the Ankeny Blocks.

In 2013, the Goodmans sold their parking business to an international parking operator, but not the land. Now they're going a step further, seeking developers to build on empty surface lots. (They're not selling—just leasing the land out, so they get an ongoing return on any project.)

(Image: Prosper Portland)

Four of the properties could become among the highest skyscrapers in the city; they'll be zoned to rise up to 460 feet. They could be a mixture of office, retail, hotels and apartments or condos. Greg Goodman is hunting for tenants.

"We have had conversations with regional, national and international companies," says Goodman. "Ten years ago, you wouldn't have gotten the interest. For the younger demographic, Portland is a cool place to go."

A massive company choosing to move in could change the waterfront into a bustling place.

"The idea of transforming a place that is that close to the waterfront is powerful," says city planner Raggett. "We haven't done a good job of creating a vibrant active waterfront."

Where would it go?

The Goodman family, who once held a near-monopoly on public and private parking in downtown, owns parcels on 11 blocks in downtown, taking up roughly 5 acres. The sites now mostly hold parking lots and food-cart pods, scattered near Voodoo Doughnut and Pine Street Market.

What could go wrong?

Not everybody is excited about tall buildings along the river. Some elected officials want to block them. "Nobody made a good case for why those buildings had to be that tall," Commissioner Fritz told WW last year. "They're going to stick out like sore thumbs."

A City Council vote is scheduled for next month on downtown zoning—including building heights, but the council is expected to raise those heights.

What's next?

The Goodmans are developing the first of the sites, at 108 SW 3rd Ave. The Historic Landmarks Commission recently approved a six-story building with 133 apartments, a fifth of them affordable, and retail on the ground floor. Construction is expected to begin this year.

For Goodman, there's no urgency on other properties, and he acknowledges "nothing is remotely imminent" in terms of landing a big fish.

The Goodmans could bide their time. "They're moving ahead," says MacKenzie. "But they're not developing all of their properties all at once."

As with Portland's other ambitious projects, the Ankeny Blocks are open to revision. And that may be good news. A city is never more flexible than when it's in a building boom. Portland has an opportunity to dream big about what it can be—and who it's for.

(Rosie Struve)

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