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Its time for a Portland update

After 15 years, planners take another crack at the Central City Plan

The 15-year-old Central City Plan Ñ which sparked dreams of tall ships, streetcars and a new era of waterfront development Ñ is being dusted off for an update.

City Planning Director Gil Kelley said the surging demand for housing in Portland, the changing character of the city's major industries and the new burden of environmental regulations all call for a major review of the path-breaking document.

'It's a huge opportunity here,' he said. 'It's been 15 years since we looked at it. It's time.'

Kelley said he would like to step back from specific land-use questions and engage community leaders and residents 'in a conversation about what people really see as the crying need and the main challenges.'

Those may not be land use-related, he said.

'They may have to do with education, they may have to do with other concerns,' he said. 'We're so used in Portland to looking through land-use plans because we do that well. There's sort of the old saying that if all you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.'

Kelley said there also are things that city planners can do to improve the downtown's retail core and entice high-tech industry to locate in the middle of the city.

Other challenges include opening both banks of the Willamette River to greater public access, he said. The Central Eastside Industrial District, for instance, has been targeted for a science-technology area and a corporate headquarters zone south of neighboring OMSI and the Portland Community College satellite building.

The Guild's Lake Industrial Sanctuary, which runs along the west side of the Willamette north of downtown, is part of a current study on the city's demand for industrial space.

From the 1988 plan Ñ the idea of then-Commissioner Margaret Strachan to expand the existing downtown plan to the east Ñ came the west-side streetcar line, expansion of downtown housing and the university district surrounding Portland State University. The plan was considered 'radical' for a West Coast city because of its consideration of mixed-use development, Kelley said.

The plan was partially updated in 1991 when the city adopted a new zoning code.

Although it may be dated, the Central City Plan is fascinating in its scope, with dozens of maps and sketches offering visions of future city streets with new housing, storefronts and transportation.

Among its grander imaginings: tourist attractions such as a permanently anchored, square-rigged sailing ship on the seawall, an aquarium and a Burnside Bridge reconstructed into a replica of Italy's Ponte Vecchio with stores and restaurants on either side.

'There are a lot of dreams there,' said former Mayor Bud Clark, who presided over city government when the plan was drawn up. 'What I liked best about it was, it jumped the river and set up entry ways off the (Burnside) Bridge to the east side. I was always pleased that it incorporated the east side.'

'It got us to one stage of evolution,' Kelley said. 'Now we have to move to another. A lot of the things in the Central City Plan have been achieved. A lot of things were not even contemplated.'

Noticeably absent from the 1988 plan is any mention of the Pearl District and the North Interstate Avenue area. At the time, the Pearl already was attracting artists, and twenty-somethings were beginning to move into warehouse lofts. The North Macadam and Brewery Blocks areas, too, were largely ignored. All are now sites of the city's largest housing, office and commercial redevelopment activity.

A number of transportation ideas from the Central City Plan, including a water taxi and east-side streetcar, have been proposed but have yet to materialize. Clark said he thinks that the North Interstate area Ñ where a MAX line will open in 2004 Ñ and the Central Eastside District show the most potential for redevelopment. He also has hopes for a tall ship replica on the Willamette.

'I still wish we had a rebuilding of the Chenamos,' the ship commanded by one of Portland's founders, New Englander Capt. John Couch, who sailed up the Willamette in the 1840s, Clark said.

Who's in, who's out

City planner Graham Clark (no relation to the former mayor) said the updated plan will expand the original districts beyond Northeast and Southeast 12th streets on the eastern boundary and the Lair Hill boundary on the south side. It also is likely to include Oregon Health & Science University, Legacy Emanuel, Providence Portland and other large hospitals that surround the area. Planners will draw items from the original Central City Plan and add to them.

'We're trying to scope out what makes sense,' said Graham Clark, who is also working with the Portland Development Commission, Portland Parks & Recreation and the city's Office of Transportation. 'It's going to be a while before we launch this baby. After 15 years we want to see what are the new ideas.'

Kelley predicted that there would be six months of internal study before the revised plan is presented to the neighborhood associations. A similar land-use plan review already is under way for the St. Johns neighborhood, and others soon will focus on the Gateway, Lents, Hollywood and Hillsdale neighborhoods.

'We're looking at the role of neighborhoods and Main Street,' he said. 'What does it mean to have a town center?'

People will be able to make suggestions not only for their neighborhood but for the central city as a whole, Graham Clark said.

It may take some time. The revitalization of Northwest Portland and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard stretched out 20 years, much of it without the city's help.

Contact Kristina Brenneman at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .