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.
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.