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Kessi sticks to his vision for Wizer Block

by: REVIEW PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Developer Patrick Kessi (left) discusses plans for the Wizer Block in downtown Lake Oswego with Eric Allenbaugh during a recent open house on the property. As Patrick Kessi pushes ahead with his plans for the Wizer Block, he’s running up against reluctant neighbors concerned with the proposed development’s size and density and its impact on downtown Lake Oswego.

Anyone familiar with Kessi’s development portfolio is right to do a double-take: His 937 Condominiums, completed in 2008, is an 18-story, 114-unit high-rise that towers over Northwest Glisan Street in Portland’s Pearl District, a modern structure best described as abstract-industrial.

But seven miles away, Kessi and partner Geoff Wenker are developing a four-level, mixed-use apartment building that will be marketed to young professionals. Unlike the sharp lines and fractal patterns of the 937 condos, this 165-unit building will integrate elements like patina copper to reflect the St. Johns neighborhood’s industrial roots and to echo the presence of the nearby St. Johns bridge. Units are expected to rent at market value, and the complex’s primary amenities are a common barbecue area and rooftop deck.

In look and feel, the projects are as different as they could be. But both fit well in their respective neighborhoods. And that, Kessi will tell you, is the whole idea: His redesigned proposal for the Wizer Block is the right fit for Lake Oswego, he says, and it will attract residents who want to “physically, emotionally and economically invest in the core of Lake Oswego.”by: REVIEW PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - We look for communities and neighborhoods that we think really thrive from mixed-use development, developer Patrick Kessi says.

“We look for communities and neighborhoods that we think really thrive from mixed-use development,” Kessi says, “and we specialize in underground parking, ground-floor retail and condos or apartments above.”

You certainly can’t accuse Kessi and Wenker of straying from their vision.

When condo sales all but halted during the recent economic downturn and other developers salvaged similar projects by turning condos into rental units, W&K Development LLC stood behind its concept for the 937 — even though it meant not selling the development’s final unit until 2012.

Still, Kessi’s past success hasn’t been enough to convince everyone in Lake Oswego that his vision for the city’s downtown core is the right one. Critics of his original plan said the project was too big and too dense, and that its design was a poor fit for downtown’s “village” feel.

Kessi responded with a “scaled down” redesign that includes multiple facades to reduce the project’s outsized feel and incorporates a more-traditional architecture style. He increased commercial space and cut the number of apartments to 207, and included a variety of outdoor gathering spots and green spaces.

That hasn’t been enough to quell the controversy over a development that is still 87- percent residential. But Kessi argues that his plan is the right fit for Lake Oswego, and that the project — which is still awaiting approval from city planners — already boasts a waiting list of 70 people interested in moving in.

“Eighty percent of those people already live in Lake Oswego,” Kessi says. “People want to get out of homes that have stairs and yards and downsize to one-level living. They want less maintenance and more flexibility.”

And the young professionals and empty-nesters that Kessi expects to attract also want to live where they can shop and eat and find nearby entertainment, he believes.

“These people will be out on the streets, visiting local merchants and businesses and really helping the energy of that area,” Kessi says. “That’s the great thing about mixed-use residential: People are there eating in the restaurants, shopping in the stores. They don’t have to drive to get there.”

Early developments

Kessi’s projects have focused on urban neighborhoods in the Portland metro area, but his own origins are decidedly rural: He was raised on a dairy farm in Scappoose and still resides in that community. Growing up, he helped care for a herd of milk cows. But when his father started Kessi Construction some years later, Kessi decided to learn the new family business.

That served him well as an enterprising undergrad at the University of Portland, where he was a finance major and resident assistant. He was elected student body president and continues to sit on the university’s Board of Regents.

Some savvy stock investments during his adolescence enabled him get into the real estate game early, Kessi says.

“A friend had secured a house with his friends, but then in the middle of the summer the landlord said he was going to sell the house, almost out from under them,” Kessi says. “Because of my construction experience, growing up on the farm and (working in) the small construction business, (the friend) approached me.”

Kessi realized that he could buy the house, add a couple of bedrooms and a bathroom and give even more friends a place to live. The rent his friends paid gave him a $200-a-month income after the mortgage. He covered construction, maintenance and property management himself — and found his new calling.

Now, Kessi heads what he excitedly refers to as a “boutique development company.”

“We spend a lot of time on the front end, analzying the market and who’s going to be living there, asking ‘What do they value? What do they want?’” Kessi says. “So we really try to build a building that’s very compatible not only from a geographic standpoint, but also from a demographic standpoint.”

Kessi has been married for seven years to his wife, Mary, a teacher who is currently at home with their 6-year-old son and 4-year-old and 2-year-old daughters. The couple is expecting a fourth child in August.

Forging ahead

Leonard Bergstein, owner of the public relations firm Northwest Strategies Inc., has worked with Kessi on the Wizer Block development. He calls the project Kessi’s “labor of love.”

By Bergstein’s estimate, Kessi has held “hundreds” of public meetings and made considerable concessions on plans for the 290,000-square-foot development. But one thing Kessi has not backed down on is the high ratio of residential to commercial space.

The area is zoned for residential use at a 3:1 density, Kessi argues, and his plans reflect a 2.7:1 density.

“Our market research and waiting list also show that there is really a great need for residential in that area,” Kessi insists. “It’s really unheard of that people will want to be on a waiting list for an apartment more than three or four months before delivery.”

Kessi holds open house on Wizer Block

By Cliff Newell

Patrick Kessi has fielded thousands of questions ever since he first proposed his plan for developing the Wizer Block in downtown Lake Oswego. But he was happy to answer more when he hosted an “open house” at the Lake Oswego Farmers Market on Saturday.

In a simple outdoor booth decorated with balloons, Kessi and his experts in construction, design and traffic talked to a steady stream of people about his plan to replace the current Wizer’s shopping center with new retail shops and 207 residential units.

“People could come and find out the facts,” Kessi said. “They could touch and get a feel for what we are doing. I think they really liked our new and improved redesign. It was great to talk to people and walk them through what we are doing.”

Opponents of the development say it will be too big and too dense, and that it will diminish the character of Lake Oswego. Kessi disagrees, and he said visitors to the booth on Saturday seemed to disagree, too.

“People were impressed with our new English Tudor design,” Kessi said. “The changes have added to the cost, but we are committed to maintaining the village atmosphere of Lake Oswego.”

Kessi noted that the ground on which his booth stood was “the last piece at the end of the block.”

“Our project will complete the development of this end of town,” Kessi said, “and it will be very compatible with the rest of the city.”




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