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Building success

Pair of developers see gold in brewery-armory behemoth Partners Robert Gerding and Mark Edlen tackle blight along West Burnside Street

When the Henry residential tower in the showy Brewery Blocks opens next year, Robert Gerding plans to live there Ñ immersing himself in a way in his own brew.

His friends think he's crazy.

If anything goes wrong, they warn, tenants will be knocking on his door in the middle of the night.

Gerding is one half of the Gerding/Edlen development team, responsible for the iconic Pearl District project that has soared even as the region's economy has soured.

Gerding also works in the complex; the firm established its offices in the Brewery Blocks last November. Immersion clearly is the right word.

Mark Edlen, the other half of the team, thinks 'it's almost kind of natural. When you build these buildings, you pour a lot of life into them.'

'So we have to build a really good building,' joked Gerding, an empty nester who will be trading in his Eastmoreland home for downtown living.

Firm has more in works

Gerding/Edlen Development Co. has catapulted to national prominence as the $300 million, five-block development on West Burnside Street draws closer to completion.

The two men took the dingy 130-year-old Blitz-Weinhard facility with its smokestack and hard-to-fill Armory Building and transformed the site into 1.7 million square feet of upscale condos, retail stores and prime offices.

Only Pioneer Place, the downtown shopping mall, and RiverPlace, on the Willamette waterfront, come close to it in scale, said Abe Farkas, the Portland Development Commission's development director.

Most of the Brewery Blocks already is leased ÑÊa coup considering the thousands of square feet of retail and office space going begging in downtown Portland. The rest will be leased next week, Edlen said, when another three retailers and two office tenants are scheduled to sign up.

Developer Homer Williams, who is working with Gerding/Edlen on the North Macadam development and a redevelopment project in Tacoma, Wash., marvels at the duo's achievement. 'It's quite remarkable,' he said.

Gerding/Edlen ÑÊwhich led the region's commercial developers in 2001 and 2002 with more than $500 million in projects ÑÊnow has a half-dozen buildings in the works, including the Vanport Square mixed-use project on Northeast Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and the master plan for Trail Blazer owner Paul Allen's Rose Quarter property.

Given the buzz about the Brewery Blocks, a passel of other potential clients are waiting in line to hire them.

It's a full schedule that leaves the two men little time, and even less privacy. Gerding, whose grandfather, Ward Whiteside, also was a builder, escapes on his fishing boat at every opportunity. Edlen, a first generation developer, spends time with his family.

Dreams and details

The partners met nine years ago when Edlen, then a Cushman & Wakefield broker, knocked on Gerding's door to lease space at the ADP Plaza on Southwest Front Avenue.

Edlen, whose nickname is Energizer Bunny, 'is extremely detailed, organized,' Gerding said. 'He's ultrathorough in analyzing the risks and rewards. He's a brilliant guy who works at tremendous speed.'

Gerding, a former biochemist at Good Samaritan Medical Center, 'is more of the dreamer,' Williams said. 'They complement each other very well.'

The two each easily rack up 60 hours of work every week.

'We know what's in each other's heads,' said Gerding, who said caffeine is not solely responsible for their energy levels. He drinks English breakfast tea; Edlen downs 'too much' Diet Pepsi.

Gerding and Edlen have done plenty of less prominent projects, ranging from build-to-suit offices for companies such as InFocus and Synopys to the Tigard Triangle building. They also did Portland's Development Services Building, where PDC is based, as well as the difficult industrial conversion that became ad agency Wieden & Kennedy's headquarters on Northwest Glisan Street, of which they own 25 percent interest.

Arts could come, too

Projects as massive as the Brewery Blocks don't come along very often.

The Stroh family, which owned the brewery buildings, shut down operations in 1999 and invited nationwide bids. Gerding/Edlen won the nod with their $19.75 million offer.

'They have the spirit of É being bold and entrepreneurial,' PDC's Farkas said. 'There is also a civic dimension to it. They could have taken the Brewery Blocks and built parking above grade, which would have been less expensive. They also kept the smokestack at a cost of $600,000 for reinforcing it.'

It wasn't all smooth sailing. Leasing the offices and retail space took longer than anticipated. A number of retailers such as Crate and Barrel and Seattle-based REI said no.

'Anytime you have a slowdown in the economy it affects the real estate business,' Gerding said.

The last two remaining pieces of the complex Ñ the Henry and the Armory Ñ will be completed in the next year and a half. Sixty-one of the Henry's 123 units, which range in price from $200,000 to more than $1 million, already have sold.

Gerding, a member of the Portland Center Stage board of directors, has proposed moving performing arts into the Armory. Pacific Coast Restaurants has plans to open a restaurant with a brewery theme inside the historic brewhouse.

Michael Powell, whose Powell's City of Books takes up a block east of the brewery site, calls Gerding/Edlen 'a good and thoughtful neighbor. There's a synergy on Couch Street between Whole Foods, Sur La Table, Peet's Coffee and us. I feel good about it.'

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