Union Way connecting West Burnside and SW Stark (Lever Architecture)

Union Way, the new mid-block pedestrian tunnel in downtown Portland already has tenants moving in and setting up shop. This new walkway and 10-store mini-mall was created by Project^ and Lever Architects, and is the new home to retailers and restaurants like Danner, Spruce and Boxer Ramen. Cut-through retail passages like this are more common in Europe and Asia, but the concept can be found everywhere. What makes this project special is that it takes once dead space and makes it into a destination. The project came about from the closing of two small nightclubs abutting each other on opposite sides of a city block. Both buildings were awkward to lease on their own, but the combined site directly linked two large anchors: Powell’s Books and the Ace Hotel. This project not only creates numerous valuable retail spaces, but also creates a new place to experience altogether.

Union Way’s main ‘alley’ connecting Burnside to Stark Streets (Union Way PDX)

Just down the street on West Burnside you will find another project that blends public and private space: the remodeling of the US Bancorp Tower. Unlike Union Way, this project isn’t adding any new pedestrian space, in fact it is taking it away. Cleverly part of an updating remodel, the already under construction plans take away several key pedestrian passageways and replace them with retail space. The project boasts an enhanced exterior pedestrian plaza on the South end, but in reality the building is engulfing a section of the existing plaza and pedestrian way and turning that into leasable retail space while adding a few planters to the outside. Inside, the passageway to Pine Street is also being converted to retail space, which was originally designed to accommodate the loss of the public ROW of Pine Street through the superblock. The worst part of the remodel is that it does nothing to rehab the ‘Berlin Wall’ West facade, which has created a dead-zone downtown since the late 70’s. Don’t get me wrong, any change made to the block would be better than the existing pink slab, but I cannot help but think that this remodel is just ‘lipstick on a pig.’ The whole lower podium is a travesty for downtown’s livability, and with the millions being poured into this remodel, the podium is here for at least another 20-30 years.

Rendering of the remodeled South plaza area of the US Bancorp building (GBD)


3 responses to “connections

  1. As I’ve been reading about the US Bancorp Tower I’ve been lamenting the loss of public space. It was a wonderful asset to the neighborhood to be able to buy cart food across the street and then go here to eat lunch. A nice respite from the rain and the street.

    I suspect that they might be in discord with the original building permit. There was a transfer of public ROW to the building owners and in exchange I suspect there was a provision for public space, some of which might have included the second floor seating area and atrium.

  2. After inquiring with BDS they let me know that as part of the recent renovation plan’s design review the did assess historic permits and concluded that the tower was required to allow the public to have access thru the building “during reasonable hours”. There was no requirement for an easement.

    I wonder what the original intent was for the second floor space overlooking SW Oak? Was it meant to be programmed more? I’ll have to just figure out someplace else to eat my lunch.

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