Groups hope to revive central east side by luring high-tech jobs to historic buildings
by: , “The kinds of industries that used to be in those buildings have moved to suburbs where land is cheaper and freeway access is better.” - Tim Holmes, Central Eastside Industrial Council

As the city moves closer to finalizing its redevelopment plans for the inner east side, property and business owners are working to preserve the historic feel of more than two dozen blocks of largely underutilized industrial buildings near the Willamette River between Southeast Ash and Market streets.

Property and business owners are working with the Portland Development Commission and the city's Bureau of Planning to establish a special economic opportunity subarea to lure 'new economy' companies to the buildings - including software companies, Web site designers and digital production companies.

'These are the new industries of our economy. Bringing them into the area will increase employment while preserving the historic industrial nature of the area,' said Tim Holmes, a photographer who is chairman of the Central Eastside Industrial Council, a coalition of business owners in a larger area that stretches from the river east to Southeast 12th Avenue.

The land in the proposed subarea currently is zoned for industrial use only. The City Council will be asked to approve the subarea in November, said city planner Nicholas Starin, who is working on the proposal.

Starin said the council also will be asked to approve a new commercial category within the subarea called Industrial Offices. The category would cover businesses that look like traditional professional offices but that produce goods instead of services, Starin said, and have few clients or customers visiting them.

Starin said the new category would make it clear such businesses are welcome in the subarea.

'What we want to do is encourage industrial uses in the subarea, but recognize that there are new industries that look more like offices than transitional manufacturing companies,' Starin said. 'A software production company may be a room full of people sitting at computers, but they are producing products like DVDs or computer software programs.'

Holmes said the goal is to encourage new businesses to locate in the area that are compatible with existing businesses, which include light manufacturers, warehouses and recycling companies.

'Conventional offices aren't good fits because the existing businesses can be noisy and there isn't much parking for customers,' he said. 'But there are newer industries that are compatible, and we need to encourage them to locate here.'

The proposal that the council will consider is being finalized as the city's redevelopment plans for much of the inner east side take shape.

The council has created two urban renewal areas that stretch along many of the blocks on the east side of the river. They are being managed by the PDC - the city's urban renewal agency - which plans to pump more than $90 million in redevelopment funds into them over the next 20 years.

The investments are expected to turn both areas into lively mixed-use neighborhoods with hundreds of new residents, visitors and jobs.

Out of sight, out of mind

It's easy to overlook the economic development subarea the council will be asked to create.

Although it encompasses about 30 acres, large physical barriers conspire to hide it from view and make access difficult. Much of the land is in the shadow of the Marquam Bridge, which carries Interstate 5 over the Willamette River and cuts the city off from its east bank.

Many businesses in the subarea also are located under or directly adjacent to the east side on- and offramps of the Morrison and Hawthorne bridges. Several railroad tracks cut through the property.

Many of the businesses in the area are in two- and three-story unreinforced brick and mortar buildings that are more than 50 years old. Although once bustling with activity, a large percentage are now either unoccupied or occupied only on the ground floors.

'The kinds of industries that used to be in those buildings have moved to suburbs where land is cheaper and freeway access is better,' Holmes said.

The subarea is far from dead or dying, however. Some businesses have never left, and a number of buildings have been redeveloped.

Brad Malsin, a developer focusing on the central east side, has transformed a large warehouse at 1001 S.E. Water Ave. into the Eastbank Commerce Center and is turning another warehouse - the B and O between Southeast Washington and Stark streets - into a similar office complex. Group Mackenzie architects and the Coaxis Inc. software company are remodeling the Holman Building, 49 S.E. Clay St., into their corporate headquarters.

Holmes believes the number of such redevelopment projects will increase greatly if the council adopts the subarea plan and formally proclaims the city's interest in locating new-economy industries there.

East side is hopping

Even if Holmes is right, those projects are likely to represent a small percentage of the work that will be undertaken on the central east side over the next two decades.

Two urban renewal areas cover many of the blocks that run east of the river between the Ross Island Bridge on the south and Northeast Multnomah Street on the north. Some city-backed projects are under way there, and others are in the final planning stages.

The Central Eastside urban renewal area is bordered by the Willamette River on the west, Southeast 12th Avenue on the east, Interstate 84 on the north and the Ross Island Bridge on the south.

The City Council will review a $51 million spending plan for the area in October, after which the PDC will approve a detailed budget. It tentatively includes $5 million for redeveloping the closed Washington-Monroe High School as a housing and community center; $3 million for new housing; and $1.45 million for the Burnside Bridgehead, a mixed-use development project at the east end of the Burnside Bridge.

The tentative plan also includes $6.1 million for grants and loans to building owners to bring their structures up to current earthquake standards. This is a high priority for landlords in the proposed subarea, many of whom will need to upgrade their buildings before adding significantly more tenants.

Most of the Oregon Convention Center urban renewal area is concentrated north of I-84, as far north as Northeast Schuyler Street between the river and Northeast 16th Avenue, with an extension running up Northeast Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard to Portland Boulevard. Last May the PDC board approved a plan for the 16 blocks within the area around the Oregon Convention Center, 777 N.E. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.

Streetcar in the mix

The City Council is scheduled to consider the Redevelopment Vision for the Oregon Convention Center Blocks in November. Among other things, it calls for building a 600-room headquarters hotel adjacent to the center. Although the financing plan has yet to be finalized, the PDC and Metro are studying whether a publicly owned hotel is feasible.

Tentative plans also call for the east-side segment of a central city streetcar loop to run through both areas. The project is being designed by Portland Streetcar Inc., the nonprofit organization that manages the current west-side streetcar line under contract with the city.

The route being studied would run from Northwest Portland over the Broadway Bridge to the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, where it would cross the river on a yet-to-be-approved bridge and connect with the downtown streetcar line. The estimated cost of the east-side line is $180 million, with some of the funding coming from the Oregon Convention Center and Central Eastside urban renewal area.

Map of the proposed eastside subarea:

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