For a long time the City of Portland’s ‘Central City’ boundary included a peculiar, oddly shaped short stub of land which protruding under the Fremont Bridge into the NW Industrial area. As the success of the Pearl District has driven residential construction northward, a portion of this predominantly vacant land has been redeveloped into the lackluster Riverscape townhomes and Pacifica condominiums. Recently, most of the development-related news has focused on the nearby $116 million Centennial Mills rehabilitation plan from Jordan Schnitzer and Harsch Investment (and that small project over in the Lloyd), but the stub land just to the North of the old mill has seen quite a bit of activity of its own lately.
The last four parcels of Riverscape look to be finally getting underway, along with a newcomer, the Front 17 development, a two-acre project that includes a five-story office block, 220 apartments, townhomes, and large amount of ground floor retail. This new project is to be located on an irregular shaped site sandwiched between the railroad and Front Avenue, and abutting up to the locally landmarked Dockside Saloon.
Front 17 is in an early stage of development, but the images released give us a good idea of what the design team is thinking. The majority of the massing is pressed up against Front Avenue, which makes sense for potential views of the river and to reduce train noise. Along that same line of thinking it also makes sense to put office space at the triangular point closest to the rail crossing at NW 15th and Thurman. Unlike Riverscape, the architects dug deep into the history of the site and its immediate context for inspiration. The resulting interlocking forms are based on the old warehouse docks that once lined the Willamette, with folded ends and diagonal wood siding reminiscent of the old wharf buildings that once presided there.
The proposed materiality and open design of the retail spaces along Front Avenue are very promising for a successful active street environment. The predominant use of light wood tones and large windows looks to give the undulating pedestrian realm a warmer, more inviting feel, which is in contrast to the existing built environment that is currently rather bleak and empty. This project will definitely be a welcome addition to the area, especially as the gap between the Pearl District and this odd wedge of downtown gets smaller. I do hope however, that projects like this can play nice with the neighboring industrial district, whose edge has been eroded and blurred as of late. Large swathes of former industrial and flex land, like South Waterfront and Con-way, are rapidly changing and redefining the urban edge, and the mix has not always meshed well for obvious reasons. The need for urban residential land is great however, especially since our main policy objective is to preserve our forests and farmland while sustaining a demanding population gain, which is no easy task with a finite amount of land and resources. Regardless, we need to use our few remaining redevelopable parcels wisely, and the proposed density and amenities of Front 17 are spot on with those goals, albeit with a few more parking spaces than I think are necessary.
As previously mentioned, the last Riverscape properties are also in various stages of development as the Front fronting parcels are already under construction, and both Lots 1 and 8 have been going through design review. Block 1 keeps within the same riskless design sense as the rest of Riverscape, and Lot 8’s design inspiration comes directly from the tiered waterfront projects of Vancouver, BC. The important thing about these projects is that, once they are complete, the area should finally feel like part of the central city, with an urban street presence, storefronts, and a continuous waterfront pathway.