Six-story building planned for Old Town

Multi-level structure will house shops, offices and apartments

A section of Old Town in Portland, March 21, 2014 (KOIN 6 News)
A section of Old Town in Portland, March 21, 2014 (KOIN 6 News)

PORTLAND, Ore. (The Tribune) — Developer Gerding Edlen will soon be breaking ground on a new, six-story building in Old Town that it hopes will be a catalyst for development.

The right kind of development, that attracts well-heeled Ducks and designers, rather than dreary offices and homeless people.

In September, the Portland Development Commission approved a deal selling the land to Gerding Edlen for $2.6 million. The $37 million, L-shaped building will nestle next to the Oregon College of Oriental Medicine (OCOM), on space that is currently a surface parking lot. The mixed-use building will have retail on the ground floor, plus offices and 60 market rate apartments.

When it opens in 2016, it will house two University of Oregon Masters programs, as well as the headquarters of Ankrom Moisan, Architects, the firm which designed the building.

Ankrom Moisan is eating its own dog food on this one: there will be a shared lobby between the office workers and the apartment dwellers.

“The idea of getting your mail in your bathrobe in a lobby where people are going to work raised some eyebrows,” said Jill Sherman, a Gerding Edlen vice-president, on a recent tour of the site. She cites the Twelve West building, designed and inhabited by ZGF Architects, where the people who live in the Indigo apartments and the office workers happily mix. They keep the doors open between their separate lobbies, because it’s a short cut.

The University of Oregon’s Executive MBA is for mid-career workers to spend one or two days a week on their business theory and skills. They are currently in the Black Box at 200 Market Street, which Sherman describes as “very traditional, with a lot of dark mahogany.”

Located at Northwest Couch and Davis Streets on Northwest Naito Parkway, this site, by contrast, has the MAX train TK stop right there, as well as Waterfront Park and great access from Naito Parkway. Students in the new Masters of Sports Product Management degree will be learning how to make and sell athletic and outdoor apparel, and will have a sewing workshop under the Burnside Bridge.

The building will have an old school look, with big, glulam timbers and operable windows. Cast iron columns salvaged from 19th century buildings will be incorporated into a 30 feet wide public walkway between it and OCOM. The walkway’s gates will be lockable at night.

Murray Jenkins, managing principal at Ankrom Moisan Architects, will be working in the building. “The design pulls from its context, which is an extremely rich historical district. It’s a building that respects the past but looks to the future. We’re trying to create a great community that has a creative energy.”

Ankrom Moisan expects its hiring and retention to improve when they move from SW Macadam to Old Town.

Jenkins expects the neighborhood to change, “But it will maintain its grittiness. We’re not scared of it. You can’t marginalize it.”

PDC will keep $965,000 in escrow in case of environmental clean up, or the discovery of archaeological artifacts. Asian rather than Native American artifacts are likely, but Murray doesn’t expect any significant delays.

As part of the five-year plan for Old Town/Chinatown, the PDC (itself based on NW 5th Avenue) is selling many of the properties it holds there. Sherman says Gerding Edlen won the bidding against one other developer a year ago. Gerding Edlen is known for its seminal developments around town, including the Brewery Blocks.

Much of the company’s business is rounding up investors to fund large projects. Gerding Edlen is set to make $500 million by selling off apartment complexes in cities such as Boston, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle. The company gambled in 2009 that developing properties under the Green Cities Banner in a recession would one day come good. It worked.

This Old Town development however, fits into Gerding Edlen’s “triple bottom line” portfolio, that is, smaller projects, mostly non-profits in Portland, that are done for a fee and good karma.

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