TRIB TOWN: Three teams will develop ideas for buildings along Pearl District's north end

Plans to redevelop the mostly vacant Centennial Mills grain complex are finally moving forward.

Seven years after it bought the 4.5-acre site along the west bank of the Willamette River between the Broadway and Fremont bridges, the Portland Development Commission will soon select three development teams to submit plans for renovating the property.

The final proposal - expected to include a mix of housing, retail and public space - is scheduled to be selected late this year after an extensive public review process.

'There's going to be a lot of public involvement,' said Joleen Jensen-Classen, PDC public affairs coordinator. 'This is a pretty big project, and there's already been a lot of community interest in it.'

The site is one of the last remaining large parcels along the river. The complex, at the northern end of the still-growing Pearl District, represents an opportunity to develop a public open space that connects the city to waterfront.

The PDC will not announce how much money is available for the project until it sees what the public wants and how the teams respond, agency project manager Steven Shain said.

The site also represents a rare opportunity to preserve a historic part of the city's past - the complex of 12 industrial structures built between 1910 and 1940.

The PDC bought the parcel in 2000 with $7.7 million in urban renewal funds and money from the Bureau of Environmental Services.

It currently houses the Portland Police Bureau's Mounted Patrol Unit and the Tanner Creek outfall, the large pipe where the long-buried southwest waterway flows into the river.

The Request for Qualifications was issued earlier this month. Submissions are due May 23. Each team chosen to proceed will receive a $40,000 stipend to develop its proposals, which must comply with the Centennial Mills Framework Plan.

The plan was drafted over the past year and included guidance from a citizen advisory group that included residents, designers, developers and representatives of local businesses and neighborhood associations.

The plan does not prescribe a specific design for the site. Rather, it describes five principles to guide the proposals: provide open space, capture history, define community focal points, strengthen connections and embrace sustainability.

Achieving all these goals will not be easy. Many of the buildings are seriously deteriorated and will be difficult to preserve, if they can be saved at all. Even those that can be rehabilitated will require extensive work.

The numerous options will make the public review process especially important. Jensen-Classen said a public participation plan for the project calls for the involvement of the existing advisory committee, a number of open houses and presentations to area neighborhood associations.

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