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Owner sizes up historic building

City keeps an eye on Meier & Frank site as retailer considers options

The future of the landmark downtown Meier & Frank building is in the hands of St. Louis-based owner May Department Stores Co., which is considering an architectural firm's analysis of the building's possibilities.

The historic building's deteriorating condition has fed fears that Meier & Frank could move from a location that is considered a crucial part of Portland's downtown retail core. Meier & Frank's administrative offices also are located there.

The preliminary analysis explores the options available for the structure, at 621 S.W. Fifth Ave. Both the Portland Development Commission and the Association for Portland Progress are anxiously waiting to see the analysis, prepared by Sera Architects of Portland.

'We'll have conversations with them when they finish,' said Sam Adams, aide to Mayor Vera Katz. Adams said options range from the possibility of closure to converting the building into a mix of retail and condominiums.

A final report is due in about two months, he said.

Members of the development commission and the Association for Portland Progress have had conversations with Meier & Frank's owners about keeping the downtown store.

In their recent Downtown Portland Retail Strategy report, the PDC and association deal extensively with the 665,000-square-foot Meier & Frank building. The report says it is 'functionally obsolete' but occupies a spot essential to the vitality of the area.

According to the report, only about 230,000 square feet of the store are being used for retail sales, with an estimated rate of sales per square foot of $132.

In contrast, downtown's other two department stores, Nordstrom and Saks Fifth Avenue, have estimated per-square-foot sales of $360 and $330, respectively.

The report estimates annual downtown sales of $62.6 million for Nordstrom, $30.4 million for Meier & Frank and $19.8 million for Saks.

'Meier & Frank has indicated a strong interest in remaining in downtown Portland at its current location,' the retail strategy report says. 'No doubt major renovation, including upgrading the structure to current seismic standards, will be costly. Meier & Frank is considering the selling of the excess space in the upper floors of the renovated building to a developer for conversion into office space or another alternate use.'

Proceeds from a sale, the report says, could contribute to renovation costs, but it adds that some participation by the city through the development commission 'will likely be necessary for Meier & Frank to undertake this major renovation project.'