Umpqua banks on new LO location

by: Vern Uyetake, Stafford Commons will open Aug. 31 in Lake Oswego. The project, first announced in May 2005, combines retail and office space with eight live/work units for creative professionals. Twenty-four courtyard condominiums separate its commercial frontage on B Avenue from First Addition homes on its north side.

Lake Oswego's financial community will see a new kid on the block when Umpqua Bank takes up tenancy at Second Street and B Avenue.

Bank officials plan to open their first Lake Oswego branch in the fall as the anchor retailer in the new Stafford Commons development, set to be unveiled by Prell and Morton Development Aug. 31.

Stafford Commons, first announced in May 2005, combines retail and office space with eight live/work units for creative professionals. Twenty-four courtyard condominiums separate its commercial frontage on B Avenue from First Addition homes on its north side.

Lani Hayward, director of creative strategies for Umpqua Bank, said the bank has long sought to enter the Lake Oswego market, particularly in its rapidly changing downtown.

She said Umpqua, which urges customers to think of banking as something other than an errand, sees potential in downtown's growing pedestrian scene.

Pointing to the increasing number of coffee shops and cafés, Haywood said, 'They're destination locations and Umpqua, it's about that.'

'I think you've also got a great mix of retailers that support a strong and exciting area to be in,' she said.

Two weeks before its grand opening, other retailers and homeowners appear to be seeing Stafford's potential.

So far, the development has sold one of its eight live/work units and four of 24 condos, netting prices between $429,000 and $617,000. Half of the office space in Stafford Commons is also filled, with offices for an attorney, psychiatrist and financial group planned.

For developers Drew Prell and Jim Morton, their first-ever joint venture downtown is showing signs of success - good news for the pair, who plan future projects in the city center.

'I have lots of pride in this community and I think (Stafford Commons) is going to be a great asset,' Prell said.

Both he and Morton have previously made solo appearances on Lake Oswego's development scene, most recently on a 22-unit condominium project on Boones Ferry Road.

Morton started the small retail community on Fifth Street at A Avenue by redeveloping a short stretch behind the 7-Eleven there, now an eclectic mix of shops whose most recent additions include a gallery and sushi bar.

Prell joined Morton in an office in that same development after 30 years planning residential projects around the United States, including projects in San Diego and Seattle. Prell is the owner of the complex that houses Blinn's Boathouse and the Lake Twin Theater.

Prell said Tuesday he's left his more aggressive development career behind in exchange for the quiet life in Lake Oswego. He said his pride in the community is fueling a desire to slow large-scale projects in favor of more customized ventures here.

Prell and Morton Development has set the course for at least two more projects downtown. Currently on the menu is a 30-unit condominium conversion at the Lake Garden Apartments, located across from Stafford Commons at 555 Second St., set to begin in October. The company also plans a conversion of the Bay Vista Apartments near Millennium Plaza Park.

For their downtown debut, the pair joined a handful of other developers that have purchased downtown lots from the city of Lake Oswego, which initially owned the Stafford Commons site. The city bought the property after First Addition neighbors fought development of a boxy senior-housing facility there. The city ultimately shopped the site for a more compatible project and settled on Prell and Morton.

The shift of the land to the developers was supported by First Addition neighbors, who wanted whatever project that took hold there to buffer single family homes to the north of B Avenue's expanding commercial district.

About 1,200 square feet of retail is still vacant in Stafford Commons' B Avenue front, where Prell says the company has selectively sought a tenant.

'I'm excited that the project is such a quality project. I think it's first class and it suits what Lake Oswego really should strive for,' Prell said.

He said owners have turned down a number of fast food tenants for the space. Ideally, he said, they sought a specialty shop that would blend with the downtown's current mix of retailers.

Named for the late Oregon Poet Laureate William Stafford, Stafford Commons recognizes the poet's connection to First Addition, where the poet and his family once made their home. Stafford's wife still resides in First Addition.

Prell and Morton plan to dedicate a stone sculpture outside Stafford Commons at the development's grand opening Aug. 31 at 5:30 p.m. The sculpture, purchased by the developers, brings a little flavor of artist Frank Boyden into downtown Lake Oswego. Boyden crafted the towering basalt columns that also honor William Stafford at Foothills Park.