OHSU biotech center to anchor proposed 140-acre neighborhood
After years of studies, discussions and false starts, city officials finally will release their comprehensive proposal for turning the North Macadam area into Portland's next major urban neighborhood.
The North Macadam Concept Plan Ñ to be released Wednesday Ñ envisions an employment and housing center on the west bank of the Willamette River between the Marquam Bridge and the Johns Landing area.
The city projects the 140-parcel eventually will support more than 10,000 new jobs and 5,000 additional housing units Ñ anchored by the advanced biotech research center Oregon Health & Science University wants to build.
The plan also reflects Portland's commitment to the environment by calling for a 100-foot-wide greenway along the river, sophisticated storm-water management systems, four new city parks and a regional streetcar system.
'This is very important for Portland,' Mayor Vera Katz said. 'It's the next step in the evolution of the central city.'
Many details of the plan have yet to be worked out by the city, including how to convince 25 separate private property owners to buy into the proposal; raise $150 million during the next 10 years to pay for public improvements; and mollify nearby residents opposed to OHSU's plan to run an aerial tram from its Marquam Hill campus to the proposed research center.
Despite these obstacles, Katz is hopeful the City Council will approve the plan this fall. 'All the ingredients are here,' she said. 'It's going to be difficult, but it's doable.'
Portland Planning Director Gil Kelley prefers to call the area the South Waterfront, saying the term more accurately reflects the city's newfound commitment to cleaning up the river and making it accessible to residents.
'This could be a model for how to have both growth and green space,' Kelley said. 'Portland can show that it doesn't have to be a choice between the two.'
Portland developer Homer Williams already is committed to the plan. He is part of a consortium called the North Macadam Investors that owns much of the central portion of the area. They are working with OHSU officials to build the first phase of the university's new campus, a conference hotel and about 2,000 apartments.
'This is the most important thing the city will do in the next 20 to 30 years,' Williams said. 'Cities that don't create jobs are a train wreck waiting to happen.'
According to Katz, the investors are close to signing legally binding development agreements with both the city and OHSU. Other property owners are more cautious, however.
'We won't comment until we've had a chance to study the plan,' said Ann Gardner, a project manager for the Schnitzer Investment Corp., which owns several parcels just south of the Marquam Bridge.
There are several obvious reasons that the area hasn't been redeveloped yet, including: It has long served as an industrial center; shipbuilding and salvage operations have polluted much of the property; and it can only be reached by two narrow roads dominated by truck traffic.
The area's development potential was first recognized in the comprehensive plan adopted by the city in 1980 to comply with state land-use planning laws. The 1988 Central City plan confirmed that it could become a mixed-use neighborhood.
The 1996 North Macadam District Street plan identified types and locations of streets needed to provide auto, transit, pedestrian and bicycle circulation. And the North Macadam District Framework plan called for the creation of a 'distinct neighborhood of exceptional character with a diversity of jobs and housing.' The North Development Urban Renewal plan was created that same year to generate property tax funds to finance infrastructure and other improvements.
But the development plan stalled as the different city agencies fought for control of the project. Some property owners also objected to the width of the greenway, and the recession reduced urban renewal dollars. Interest was finally revitalized when OHSU officials announced they might expand into the area as part of their long-range plans to turn the university into a world-class research center.
Katz enthusiastically embraced the idea. She now sees the area as part of a Portland Science and Technology Quarter, which includes Portland State University, portions of south downtown and parts of the east-side industrial district across the river.