It looks like OHSU is one step closer to the challenge philanthropist and Nike founder Phil Knight presented last year. As reported here and here, OHSU has been granted roughly $200 million in bonding authority by the Oregon State Legislature to match the proposed $500 million gift Knight is offering (that’s a lot of sneakers!). With this bond issuance, OHSU is confident it can make next year’s deadline for the challenge, and has started planning two new buildings in Portland’s South Waterfront for the Knight Cancer Institute. One building (image above) will be constructed directly north of the lonely Collaborative Life Sciences building that is just finishing construction along Moody Avenue. Another is proposed closer to the Aerial Tram and OHSU’s Center for Health & Healing.
OHSU was originally going to expand its Marquam Hill Campus only in the vicinity of the Tram landing until the Schnitzers donated two thirds of the land between the Ross Island and Marquam Bridges to OHSU. Now OHSU is planning almost three campuses south of downtown. The three areas will all have specific purposes: major and long term care on the hill, ambulance and emergency services by the Tram, and education and public-private research on the Schnitzer Campus. This is great news for the South Waterfront neighborhood, a collection of urbanistic developments on neglected industrial lands that had greatly suffered from over speculation prior to the Great Recession. OHSU’s new buildings, along with developments like The Emery and the proposed Block 37 (image below), are getting the pre-neighborhood back on track to becoming the vibrant place it was promised to be.
Block 37 has been redesigned from its original program, as there is no longer a large grocery space being offered in the development. The current Block 37 proposal is for a 5-story, 278-unit apartment building with ground floor retail facing SW River Parkway. The overall mass and material choices have remained the same, and nothing presented is outside of the existing South Waterfront language. Regardless of whether you like the squat design or not, Block 37 will bring more people and new businesses to the area, and help fill in the urban fabric. The current swathes of empty fenced off land are a daily reminder to those that dreamed of a Pearl District 2.0, the Vancouver BC inspired district of skinny glass towers and an active waterfront.
Block 37 will directly interact with the South Waterfront Greenway that is currently under construction. Phase one of the Greenway was to rebuild the riverbank and remove industrial remnants, now Portland Parks & Recreation are gearing up for phase two, the landscaping and construction of the parallel trails that will eventually connect Downtown Portland to Lake Oswego. As far as placemaking, the river fronting linear park is one of the most important elements in the desire to make South Waterfront a seamless extension of the greater city. To the south the Willamette Greenway takes joggers and bicyclists all the way to Willamette Park where the city and regional government, Metro, want to extend it along the old rail Willamette Shore Trolley ROW several miles down to Lake Oswego. To the north, the under construction (and unnamed) Trimet bridge project will include improvements to the Greenway near the OHSU buildings mentioned above. The bridge landing will have pedestrian and bicycle connections to the waterfront pathway and to the Schnitzer Campus and Moody Avenue. North of the bridge, Waterfront Park has been incrementally inching its way toward the South Waterfront, which leaves only one segment remaining to complete the much desired riverside path, the Zidell land. The Zidell’s have started the process of redevelopment with a masterplan (see image below), but their barge building business will probably continue to operate for at least another decade. Hopefully an agreement can be reached on an interim connection through their property (mechanical bridge over the slipway?) that would not impede their business until then.
When all of this work is done, I feel confident that the district will become the prosperous neighborhood it was meant to be, albeit, again, not as originally envisioned. I look forward to watching it evolve as it all comes together.