PDX development boom: ‘I think we’re back’

Construction group predicts city has 3-5 years of development ahead

Commercial construction permits are surging in the City of Portland. March 23, 2015 (KOIN 6 News)
Commercial construction permits are surging in the City of Portland. March 23, 2015 (KOIN 6 News)

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN 6) — Across the City of Portland, you can’t miss the sights of cranes rising and the sounds of construction — clear signs that a great deal of development is underway.

“I think we’re back,” Skanska General Manager Jim Link told KOIN 6 News.

But in the years following the bursted economic bubble of 2009, the big question lingers: Is there danger of creating a new bubble?

KOIN 6 News uncovered numbers from the Portland Bureau of Development Services. At the height of the bubble in 2007 and 2008, there were more than 2,300 commercial permits in the city. When the economy crashed, permits dropped to fewer than 1,900.

There has been a steady recovery in recent years, and now the latest numbers show a surge in permits.

bes chart building permits 03242015

“The great recession was fun while it lasted, but it’s good to be over,” Link said. “It’s not a surprise we rebounded, what’s surprising is how quickly we rebounded.”

You see the same trend in residential permits — from the bubble, to the burst, to the present boom — more than 4,000 residential permits are in the pipeline.

“What’s driving it is really the move of people back to the city and moving into denser urban neighborhoods,” Impresa Economics President Joe Cortright said. “Real estate markets are cyclical, so they do go up and down and they tend to over-invest.”

Because of the unpredictability of the real estate market, some worry the construction in Portland is too much too soon. But Skanska said they think the city has a good 3-5 year run ahead.

“We never try to get too comfortable,” Link said. “I’ll tell you, for us, we’re very strategic about what we go after. We don’t want to be, as they say, left hanging with the tower crane when the next bubble pops.”

Analysts said similar booms are happening all over the country, and to a different extent in smaller cities in the Portland area.

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