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Con-way plots towers, a canal street

TribTown • 'Early-stage' plan unveiled for 15 prime acres north of Lovejoy
by: COURTESY OF CON-WAY INC., Under a preliminary master plan presented last week by property owner Con-way Inc., Northwest Raleigh Street east of 23rd Avenue could recall Amsterdam, the Netherlands, with a canal — to be fed 
year-round by storm water.

In Northwest Portland, the area north of Lovejoy Street, west of Interstate 405, south of Vaughn Street and east of 23rd Avenue has been known by many names.

It has, at various times, been called Slabtown, the Northwest Portland transition zone and, fleetingly, NoLo - short for north of Lovejoy.

It also has been, in recent decades, the most underutilized valuable piece of property in the central city, dominated by half-empty surface parking lots belonging to Con-way Inc., a California-based freight company.

That's about to change. And if Craig Boretz, Con-way vice president of corporate development, has his way, it will look like nothing Portland has seen before.

Over the course of the last year Con-way has hired architects and planners to develop a master plan for its 15 acres, approximately the area bounded by Northwest 22nd Avenue to the west, Thurman Street to the north, 19th Avenue to the east and Pettygrove to the south.

Last week Con-way gave a sneak preview of the recently completed plan.

For those who want Northwest Portland to retain its house and townhouse feel, the higher density the plan proposes may be threatening.

But Joseph Zehnder, principal planner with the Portland Bureau of Planning, said that city officials, who see Northwest Portland as part of the central city and who are committed to high density close to downtown, are likely to look favorably on the design's density.

Storm water will fill canal

In the middle of the 15 acres, a four-block area bounded by Quimby and Savier streets would become a mixed-used development with residential towers 15 to 25 stories tall, according to the plan.

Shorter, three- to six-story residential buildings will fill the Con-way space along to its edges. In total, housing units may run anywhere from 750 to more than 2,000 units, according to John Spencer, an urban designer who helped create the plan.

The entire new neighborhood could accommodate as many as 4,000 new residents, Spencer said.

The plan calls for extensive retail space, a new community center and parks, and underground parking to accommodate shoppers, residents and Con-way's 1,000 employees.

Raleigh Street would be turned into an Amsterdam-style street, with a canal filled year-round with storm water, buildings running alongside and narrow streets.

'This would be the first canal street in town,' Spencer said.

Boretz called the documents, shown to a small group of Northwest Portland residents and shop owners, 'an early-stage master plan.'

He said large-scale changes to the plan still could be made if creative proposals come forward.

Lincoln idea's not yet covered

One item that isn't in the master plan is a new site for Lincoln High School, which in recent months has been proposed by developers and school officials. Boretz said he hasn't yet heard a proposal for placing the school on the Con-way property that made him receptive to the idea.

'You never say never,' Boretz said. 'We're open to listening to other creative ideas.'

The plan has 'green streets' that would emphasize pedestrian and bike activity, and mass transit, with the Portland streetcar moving north on to the property from its current Northrup Street location.

Drawings also show two greenway corridors, similar to the park blocks in downtown Portland, for between Northwest 20th and 21st avenues and 21st and 22nd avenues. Raleigh Street, according to the plan, would become the epicenter of the development's retail shopping, and a retail connector between 21st and 23rd avenues.

Boretz said he has begun talks with possible large-scale developers and that he hoped groundbreaking could happen sometime in 2009. Spencer said that talks have included Portland developers and others from out of state.

'The interest from developers is very, very high,' Boretz said.

Still, there are years to go

The entire project could take 10 to 15 years to complete, according to Spencer. However, Boretz and Spencer acknowledge that the road from visionary master plan to reality will be a long one.

'The big challenge is going to be transportation,' Spencer said.

Zehnder gives the plan credit for its ambition.

'At least we have a property owner now who is interested in trying to accomplish the goal of a compact and more residential downtown,' he said.

Just the existence of a master plan for an area as large as the Con-way property makes the possibility of large-scale public amenities more likely, Zehnder said. That might not have been achievable if Con-way had simply sold off the property block by block to different developers.

Con-way might be able to use its promise of public amenities to bargain with the city for items such as more public transportation, much like the original developers of the Pearl District negotiated for the removal of the Broadway Bridge ramp and the addition of the streetcar by promising the city parks and affordable housing.

'The master plan opens up the opportunity to get open space, to get green streets, to get some of the things the plan itself would be envisioning for the district,' Zehnder said.