Last week American Assets Trust and GBD Architects surprised the city with an ambitious encore to their still under construction Hassalo on Eighth project in the Lloyd District. It seemed implausible that any project would eclipse Hassalo on Eighth any time soon, as it was already one of Portland’s biggest projects in years with 657 apartments, 50,000 sq. ft. of retail space, and 2,400 parking stalls split evenly between bikes and cars all on a four-acre superblock. Phase II is proposed to redevelop the existing lowrise office blocks known collectively as Oregon Square, the almost five-acre superblock immediately to the South of Hassalo on Eighth, with an impressive 1,000+ apartments, 36,000 sq. ft. of retail space, and between 800 and 1,300 parking stalls.
The project is still in its infancy, with very few details released as of yet, but as Hassalo on Eighth altered its scope and design several times before construction started, I wouldn’t be surprised if this project changes as well. What we can glean from their initial proposal is that AAT is not done yet, in fact they haven’t even started. Ashforth Pacific land banked their massive 14-block, 16-acre Lloyd portfolio for years, and during their tenure the district became known as the desolate home of 70’s office towers and their accompanying sea of surface parking lots. It was one of those odd central city places that everyone traveled through; often by car, bus, train, or bike, but no one ever spent much time in. In fact, unless you worked there, most people only knew the inside of the mall and never ventured outside of it, except to walk back to their car. Now, under the helm of San Diego based AAT, who purchased the property from Ashforth Pacific for $92 million, the area is finally starting to see new energy, and new investment. Depending on how quickly Hassalo on Eighth fills up next September when it opens, Oregon Square will be redeveloped either all at once or in stages, and from that point, and if market conditions are right, AAT will look to redevelop their last superblock, the Lloyd Tower block, in a potentially larger Phase III.
In what can be seen as another promise made between the city and a large land owner coming true, the dream of reimagining the Lloyd started with a Streetcar extension. Many scoffed at the idea that the Central Loop would kick start a Pearl District style renaissance on the Eastside, but the rail advocates may have been right as both the Lloyd superblocks and the Burnside Bridgehead projects have come to fruition after years and years of stagnation only after the line was completed. Not all of the success can be attributed to the Streetcar of course, as it has taken some visionary leadership and deep pockets to make this dream come true. This dream has also been viewed as being inevitable by many, as the Westside grows denser and the wide-open Lloyd appearing as an untouched, infill-able resource, full of potential: location, 12:1 zoning, and ample transportation access. AAT, and the city, knew what the missing ingredient was: people. It takes people calling a place home to create a neighborhood, and therefor it comes as no surprise that the superblock developments are almost purely residential. Market and regional growth factors are also pushing for more housing as the office market in the Lloyd has languished and the apartment vacancy rate citywide is unprecedentedly low.
This September, when Hassalo on Eighth opens its doors, we will see if the veterans behind the Brewery Blocks can have just as much success on the Eastside as they have elsewhere in creating a place out of underutilized space. It can be seen as a big gamble, but the need is there, and the local precedents prove that it can be done. Earlier residential visions for the Lloyd, such as the unbuilt Cascadian and Cosmopolitan towers, failed due to their limited scale and impact on the environs, whereas the AAT projects are just big enough to drastically change the human scale environment. The superblock projects are also not alone in the revitalization of the area, as other nearby projects like the Lloyd Center renovation, the Hotel Eastlund, and the Convention Center Hotel will also help transform the way the district feels.
In a way, AAT’s theoretical three-phase megaproject is very similar in scope and reverie to Portland’s other downtown extensions: the Pearl District, South Waterfront, and Con-way. All of these new neighborhoods have been born from a combination of smart growth policy, major land ownership, and basic capitalistic market forces. The main difference is that the Lloyd District already had a lot of central city elements like access and development rights, whereas the other new neighborhoods started as entirely new visions. In the Lloyd, AAT and Cypress Equities, owner of Lloyd Center, are the only two major contiguous landowners, and the mall is not going anywhere soon. The AAT superblocks however are perfectly positioned to create a new North-South axis, one that is directly in line with a MAX stop and parallel to the Streetcar and proposed Green Loop pathway. This new pedestrian-only axis will greatly reduce the current East-West street hierarchy that has plagued the district due to its orientation to Downtown and proximity to Sullivan’s Gulch, which is important as it further diminishes the Lloyd District’s reputation as a space between places.
Due to the impact of this project, I doubt it will be long before more information comes out about Phase II, and until then I look forward to seeing how Hassalo on Eighth’s construction fills out as it nears completion. I have a hunch that Oregon Square will have a bit more innovative design than its predecessor, architecture that will define it both in the skyline and at the ground floor. All in all I look forward to ‘enjoying the Lloyd District,’ something I never thought I’d say.