Southeast Portland, known now for its liberal-minded residents and local boutique shops, has always been a series of linear East-West storefront streets built up 100 years ago as streetcar suburbs: Burnside, Stark, Belmont, Hawthorne, Division and Clinton Streets and their surrounding neighborhoods. These streets pass through several known neighborhoods all with distinguishing names like Buckman and Sunnyside, but most locals refer to the areas still as whichever linear street they are closest to. Southeast Portland was a downtrodden part of the city in dire need of repair only 30 years ago, now you’re lucky to be able to afford to both work and live there as property values have skyrocketed. Recently, Division Street has had more local buzz than nearby Hawthorne and Burnside business districts with a building, retail and restaurant boom.
There have been several recent new construction and complete renovation developments happening on Division, notably the two-story building that houses Caffe Pallino at 30th, Pok Pok’s Whiskey Soda Lounge, the Disaster Restoration Building restoration into storefronts at 35th Place, and the remodel of 3715 SE Division. On top of these, we have seen several modern designs for apartments-over-storefronts being built that are drastically changing the streetscape. The first new development to really change the feel of the neighborhood was the Reliable Parts Building “remodel.” The developers, Urban Development Partners, gutted the existing building down to the concrete walls, and then built out two-story townhouse style apartments over ground floor retail. This development was well-received by the neighborhood, and got kudos for adaptive reuse, material choice, and keeping with the streets historic storefront design scheme.
Urban Development Partners second Division Street project was the Move-the-House Apartments that, as you might expect, required the builders to move an existing house to the side of the large property to allow for a Division facing apartment building with ground floor retail. This project was also touted by the neighborhood for its sensitivity to keeping the existing house, allowing access to the community gardens behind it, and for the storefronts. There were some concerns after it was built as the building is taller than everything else on Division by a story, and that car parking was becoming an issue.
Currently under construction off 37th is a new apartments-over-storefronts development with a more traditional feel, a brick facade designed by Myhre Group Architects. Despite the traditional feel, this development is getting the most flack from the neighborhood for not including on-site parking. The construction is actually on-hold right now, awaiting a new building permit from the city as the previous building permit was struck down by the State Land Use Board for not having a Division Street fronting entrance for the apartments. The off-street parking debate is an interesting one as it puts liberals who want to rid themselves of car dependency against liberals who want developers to supply parking to offset street parking. I fall on the side of less auto parking mostly because I support mixed-use, car-free living, but I’m sure a compromise can be made.
Right between the recently finished Reliable Parts Building and the Whiskey Soda Lounge sits an almost completed project designed by GDB Architects. This smaller building is aiming for LEED Platinum with an extensive green wall planter and exterior sunshades. Although it is taller than its neighbors, with a slightly daunting screen frontage, the retail storefront and awning look like they will bridge the pedestrian streetscape gap and pull the block together. At this point in construction I reserve any criticism until it is completed.
Another apartments-over-storefront project by THA sits under construction a few blocks to the East. The design is similar to a lot of Portland area projects, especially recent ones in the Northeast. I appreciate the difference in texture and color though, as many new modern projects tend to be built with all-to-similar materials (South Waterfront anyone?) it is nice to see each new building along Division have its own uniqueness. Again, I reserve my criticism until the movie is over.
Across the street from the last building, two separate projects are proposed: one is at the site of the old Village Merchants at 3360 SE Division (no rendering yet), and the other is the 3330 apartments pictured above at the old Ho’s Auto Repair site. Even though 3330 is being designed by the same architects as 3339, the buildings show few similarities except for being modern and being apartments-over-storefronts. Brian Libby over at PortlandArchitecture did a nice job highlighting these buildings last week.
Down at 30th, the first phase of a 3 block project called D Street Village is underway. The project involves mixing creative office and retail together in a rather extensive remodel of the old Nature’s building, and the subsequent development of apartment buildings on two neighboring parking lots. Neither parking lot proposals have been released, but Stack Architects, designer of the Reliable Parts Building, has been noted as the lead designer, and they aim to have low-to-mid income apartments, retail at street level, and on-site parking. This project is very promising after several failed attempts to find new uses for the empty building and lots.
Overall, the city was wise to create the street-oriented zoning design overlay as almost all of the new and proposed projects on Division are apartments-over-storefronts. After everything is finished, Division will have as much retail space as other Portland destination streets like NE Alberta, NW 23rd and NE Mississippi. To put icing on the cake, the street itself is due to be put under the knife this summer as the city is finally implementing the Green Street/ Main Street Plan. That plan will remove peak-driving lanes to slow traffic, add bioswales and other stormwater treatments, and improve pedestrian crossings. With the street improvements, and the popularity of the Clinton Street Bikeway paralleling one block to the South, Division may become Southeast’s premier destination spot, usurping that crown from the overcrowded Hawthorne Street to the North.