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The Oregonian: The Round's tenacious tenants survive their winter of discontent
Author: By Brad Schmidt
Posted: August 14, 2010

http://www.oregonlive.com/beaverton/index.ssf/2010/08/the_rounds_tenacious_tenants_survive_their_winter_of_discontent.html

BEAVERTON -- Throughout the gloomy winter, black tarps covered Beaverton's big redevelopment project like a veil at a funeral.

Underneath, construction crews fixed building defects marring dozens of condominiums at the Round at Beaverton Central. Of all the problems the project has had over its 13 years, that black cloak symbolized the ultimate foundering in a project replete with flops.

To outside observers, the Round can only be described as a failure. And some people who live and work here feel the same way.

But it's home.

They've invested heavily into condominiums plagued with shoddy craftsmanship, plummeting values, sky-high association fees and persistent court cases. They've opened businesses in buildings with spendy rents, cramped parking, slow elevators and striking vacancies.

These people admit the Round has a long way to go, but they're careful to defend their home. At the Round, frustration is mixed with hope.

"I would still live here in a heartbeat," says Dana Shipley, sitting in the courtyard one July afternoon, contemplating whether she and her husband would do it all over again.

Behind Shipley, the happy-hour crowd buzzes in conversation as outdoor seating at the Round's three restaurants reaches near-capacity. It's approaching 6 p.m. on a beautiful 84-degree day. Shipley flags down one of her fourth-floor neighbors, Ron Baldwin, a Pearl District transplant, who totes his guitar in preparation for playing an impromptu concert.

Bisecting the Round's plaza, MAX trains come and go, dropping off residents and picking up office workers. Children run barefoot in the grass and splash in the water fountain. Baldwin begins his set, eventually singing a Bob Dylan classic about the search for answers.

Starting and stopping

Business officials and property owners packed Beaverton City Hall in 1996 as then-Mayor Rob Drake unveiled plans for the Round at Beaverton Central. The project would give Beaverton the center it desperately sought, he said, transforming a onetime sewer treatment site from an "ugly duckling to a swan."

Beaverton leaders picked Portland-based BCB Group Developers to complete the project. But work stopped almost as soon as it started. By 2001, Beaverton regained control of its land -- and the hollowed project -- through U.S. Bankruptcy Court, agreeing to pay stiffed contractors and lenders $1.9 million.

Enter Dorn-Platz Properties.

Beaverton officials selected the California-based company to revive the project. Under its watch, the Round grew to include 65 condominiums above 27,000 square feet of retail space, two office buildings totaling about 226,000 square feet and a 399-stall parking garage.

But Dorn-Platz never completed three other buildings of 315,000 square feet, or a second parking garage. The developer last year lost the vacant lots through foreclosure by a creditor. The land is now held by Dove Street Capital Lenders' First Class Pads, and city leaders are searching for new ideas to bring it back to life.

Peter Field is quickly familiarizing himself with that checkered history. Field is in the public plaza, snapping photos, while Hilary Curtis eats sushi beside him. Both are Portland State grad students studying real estate. Their term assignment: Figure out what to do with the Round.

"It's not as desolate and scary as I thought it would be," says Curtis, an Atlanta native who has never been here before.

Field describes the Round as something like a mirage in a desert, the kind of thing you stumble upon, a cool urban-style project lacking foot traffic, surrounded by strip malls and car dealerships.

"It always struck me as a site of great potential that wasn't reached," he says.

"Kind of disheartening"

Shipley and her husband traded their Hillsboro home for a nearly 1,700-square-foot, two-bedroom condo four years ago. Within six months, neighbors crowded into the Shipleys' penthouse unit to discuss suing the developers, builders and contractors.

Among the problems: leaky windows. It was so bad in Shipley's condo, her cats would lap up water pooling in the frames.

"It was kind of disheartening to move in and find out there were all of these problems," she says.

Shipley's account of life at the Round reveals the split personality of the project.

One of three restaurants downstairs, Mingo, is a family favorite. She's a member at 24 Hour Fitness, too, which is across the plaza. And MAX was a particularly useful commuting option before she got a job in Lake Oswego as a dental hygienist.

"It's such a mixed bag," she says. "I love living here. Love it."

But keep talking and frustration spills out. She's never really decorated her condo, not wanting to put in the work until after construction crews fixed the units. And there have been so many newspaper headlines. She points to the time the condo association gave Dorn-Platz money to pay Beaverton for the city-run heating and cooling system, only to wind up in court over unpaid bills. She felt vilified.

"Really, as residents, we've gotten the shaft," she says. "The HOAs are too high. You can't sell. ..."

The association dues are a particularly touchy subject. After filing the initial construction-defect lawsuit, Lofts at the Round Condominium Association went back to court last year to sue Dorn-Platz. The developer retained ownership of 13 condos -- 20 percent of total units -- but allegedly didn't pay monthly fees.

Also included in the fees are heating and water charges that pay for Beaverton Central Plant. Condo owners have complained the city may be overbilling them for miscalculated space.

Add it all up and monthly fees start at about $350 for units in the 700-square-foot range. Large penthouses are charged upward of $800 a month.

How's Shipley feel about that?

"Ohhh! Ohhh!" she says, covering her mouth as if not to say the wrong thing. "Should you just write 'Speechless'?"

Empty units

Looking back, it's been a long time since Terri Mishler first fell in love with the Round.

Mishler passed the project often, riding right through the middle of it on TriMet's westside light-rail line. She signed a lease in 2003, the first business to move into the second floor of the office building prominently featuring the Coldwell Banker sign.

Years later, the psychologist's office is one of only two occupied units on the floor. She remembers the vacancy rate jumping after software security firm Galois moved out.

"They were the first big company to leave and it was like, ding, ding, ding," Mishler says. She'd show up to work one day, and another company would disappear.

Feeling the emptiness, Mishler walks down the second-floor hallway every now and then, just to make sure the only other business, a design company, isn't gone.

"Obviously this isn't good, and it wasn't what I thought it'd be," she says. "I guess I want to believe it will be, at one point."

Over on the fourth floor of the Round's other office building, Jim Van Kerkhove points out the exposed ceilings, expansive windows and stained floors as he walks toward the balcony. Once outside, he offers the east-facing seat overlooking the hills and beyond.

"It fits us," he says of the Round. "What's not to like? And every once in a while, you get a view of Mount Hood that looks like a postcard."

Prolifiq, which offers software services for marketing and sales productivity, is looking to grow. Van Kerkhove says rent of $22 to $23 a square foot at the Round is pricey. But if there's room to expand next door, the CFO says, "we'd like to stay here."

Prolifiq employees who live in Portland say they like the great selection of nearby ethnic food. And the summertime courtyard concerts, sponsored by the city of Beaverton, are a big hit. They wish it happened more often.

But for a wannabe urban environment, much is missing, they say. The ground-level retail space remains painfully empty, with one unimproved space still featuring gravel floors. The only coffee shop, Urban Rhythms, closed nearly three years ago.

"I hate the parking garage," says Suzie Greenebaum, an account manager, noting vandalism concerns, narrow turns and the near-certainty of dents.

"It's like, 'the Round?'" cracks Aaron Jones, a lead web producer. "It's more like a semicircle."

The long fight

Perhaps no one knows the Round's shortcomings as well as Eric Janssen.

"This is the current situation," he says, opening the door to his under-construction condo.

Janssen bought his penthouse unit seven years ago, drawn to a spacious patio that features views of a pond, the Coast Range and Mount Hood. Janssen was the second person to move into the Round. When it became apparent that the association would need to sue to get the building fixed, he became the point man as president.

Scaffolding and tarps went up late last year. Janssen says he worried the distraction could push the downstairs restaurants out of business. For months, Charter Construction crews replaced outside doors and wood-framed windows.

"For as big and messy and insane of a process this has been," Janssen says, "they've been great."

Janssen's floor since January has been blanketed with painters' paper held down with blue tape. His sofa, tables and lamps are pushed in front of the fireplace, covered in sheets. Workers still come in and out of the units. Janssen says he isn't getting his condo back in order until they're completely done.

The multimillion-dollar settlement has given owners peace of mind, he says, but he's ready for it all to be over.

"I don't think there are enough bad things you can say about Dorn-Platz. They are the reason this place failed," he says, before cautiously adding, "in my opinion."

Janssen heads outside, passing the restaurants and crossing the MAX tracks toward the commercial sector. Eventually he turns around, ending in the plaza where he takes a seat on a bench.

So what does he like about living at the Round?

"I've been on the board and fighting the fight for so long," he says, "it's hard to remember."

Then he lists his neighbors. The way they came together in the time leading up to their financial settlement. The satisfaction of going to battle for them.

He lists the lack of yardwork. The buzz in the plaza. The insulated, urban bubble of the Round. Living here is fun, he says.

"I really want this place to succeed. And I think it can."