By Nathalie Weinstein
April 1, 2010
Harsch Investment Properties says there should be a more prominent gateway leading from downtown Portland into the Pearl District.
Today, the company will get a look at a concept with lofty aspirations.
A team of eight Portland State University graduate students will pitch its proposal to replace existing small-scale properties with two tall, mixed-use buildings to serve as an iconic entrance to the Pearl.
The two properties presently located between West Burnside and Northwest Davis streets and Northwest 13th and 14th avenues may be small, but they have enjoyed some success with Storables and Everyday Music as anchor retail tenants. But Steve Roselli, Harsch's senior vice president and regional manager, says he knows more can be done at the site.
"We've looked at redevelopment conceptually and have had a number of developers inquire about it," Roselli said. "When we started to get semi-serious about it, the market cooled off. But it's a fantastic site for mixed use, and any number of things could work there."
PSU graduate students Atha Mansoory, Jared Hendricks, William Their, Brad Johnson, Ben Gates, Jon Winslow, Mike Shall and Tom Heinicke have spent their winter term developing a proposal for the site while being advised by members of the Oregon chapter of the National Association of Industrial and Office Properties.
Their ambitious proposal could cause some developers to shake their heads: a mix of national retailers, a boutique hotel, a new art museum, workforce housing and office space.
The students propose razing the existing buildings and constructing two mixed-use buildings, one of which would be as tall as 23 stories and contain workforce housing. Heinicke said height is essential for the development to be a gateway presence.
"If and when the Burnside-Couch couplet comes along, we want to emphasize the height of the development because a fair amount of traffic will be coming past there," Heinicke said."
The second building would be slightly less tall, and include a retail podium topped with a modern art museum, office space and a 175-room boutique hotel.
Jonathan Malsin of Beam Development said that though mixed-use projects like the Indigo have used their height to great effect, buildings that are too tall can be imposing to pedestrians.
"If the height can activate Burnside and spill into the Brewery Blocks, it could be really compelling," Malsin said. "But sometimes with a tall building, it's not inviting to explore what's behind it. They should be sure the height doesn't create a barrier."
The students envision most of the retail space in the two buildings dominated by national retailers like Best Buy, Crate and Barrel, Apple and H&M. Though Portlanders may balk at the idea of another national chain entering the central city, Malsin said people will still flock to such stores.
"Having national chains close-in would be great because we know people will go to them," Malsin said. "At Burnside Bridgehead there was a lot of resistance to big box stores. But the Pearl is a retail-specific area that already has several national chains. People value authenticity here, so you do risk backlash."
Many national chains, including P.F. Chang's and Baja Fresh, can be found in the nearby Brewery Blocks. Nevertheless, Brewery Blocks developer Mark Edlen of Gerding Edlen said the most successful tenants near Burnside Street have been locals.
"Burnside is tough on retail," Edlen said. "I think Mike Powell and Mike McMenamin have been the most successful retailers there. I would try to go more local with the retail aspect."
Edlen was intrigued by the idea of a modern art museum that would use the substantial art collection of Harsch president Jordan Schnitzer. Art events like First Thursday have succeeded in the area, and Heinicke said an art-centric anchor on Burnside Street would be well attended. Edlen agreed.
"The majority of people living in the Pearl are baby boomers, empty nesters and second-home buyers that appreciate the arts," Heinicke said.
Roselli said Harsch won't be looking seriously at redeveloping the property anytime soon, but Heinicke said now is the time to dream big.
"We have to get beyond the fact that nobody is building now," Heinicke said. "It's smart to develop something big rather than go halfway with it because things are tough. Three to five years from now, there will be a return to growth."
"Everything is cyclical," Edlen said. "The Brewery Blocks only have two vacancies right now, which is testament to a lot of things that have been done there. It's going to turn around."
The students' full development proposal will be presented to Schnitzer, Roselli and Randy Kyte, Harsch's senior vice president of development, today at the Multnomah Athletic Club from 7:15 to 9 a.m. as part of a NAIOP breakfast event.
Read the article on the Daily Journal of Commerce website