From Wizer to The Windward
It's been nearly two decades since the first developer contemplated building something new on the Wizer Block in downtown Lake Oswego.
But 16 years and several iterations of the project later, The Windward — a 290,000-square-foot mixed-use development — is nearly ready to welcome new residents, retailers and restaurants to the site of what once was a 1960s-era, red-brick shopping center owned by the Wizer family.
With a long and bumpy road of planning, legal battles, public hearings and negotiations firmly in the rear-view mirror, the future of the city's downtown core now finds itself innately tied to The Windward. Already, five new businesses have signed leases in a part of the city that has seen its share of vacant storefronts, and moving trucks are expected to fill the first of 200 apartments by mid-March.
"It's a long time coming," says Lisa Shaw-Ryan, who is moving her Chuckie Pies restaurant to The Windward. "I've been through all those versions, all those meetings, looking at it from various perspectives. I'm thrilled that it turned out to be this."
Giving life to a vision
Developer Patrick Kessi says he first thought about redeveloping the Wizer Block in 2008. The longtime shopping center at the corner of A Avenue and First Street had been considered by a variety of local and national developers, but owner Gene Wizer rejected one deal, couldn't come to terms on another and saw a third fall apart during the recession.
That all changed when the economy improved and Wizer met Kessi, who he called "the right partner." In 2012, Kessi's PHK Development reached an agreement with Wizer and began planning for the mixed-use project that is nearing completion today.
"One of the things I saw in 2012 was that this was really the missing piece on this side of town," Kessi says. "We have Lake View Village on one side and (A Street Station) on the other. This was continuing what both of those projects had started, and really continuing the vision of the City of Lake Oswego."
In 1998, City leaders laid out a vision for what they wanted downtown Lake Oswego to become. At the heart of that vision was mixed-use development, incorporating a blend of commercial and residential space.
"That's one of the things I was very excited about in looking at the project from the very beginning," Kessi says. "It's really a great complement to what was already going on."
Not everyone shared Kessi's vision. The project was tied up in legal battles with multiple groups opposed to the project until November 2015, when the Oregon Court of Appeals rejected plaintiffs' arguments and the state Supreme Court refused to hear the case.
In large part, the vocal and often angry debate over the Wizer Block centered around language in city code that referred to "village character." Kessi insists he did everything he could to design a project that met that concept, but the size and scale of the development remained a point of contention throughout the process for many Lake Oswegans, who felt the small-town charm of their downtown was being destroyed.
Kessi was so sure of the legal outcome, though, that he actually broke ground on the project before the Supreme Court quashed the case. And as the Wizer Block was demolished and The Windward began to take shape, he worked to quell grumblings by working with City leaders to address the community's concerns.
It started with washing every truck that left the construction site and keeping the dust down to make sure surrounding roads and sidewalks stayed clean for motorists and pedestrians. When neighbors complained that the light atop a tower crane was shining into their homes, crews made sure the equipment pointed in a different direction at the end of the day.
When parking in the downtown core became a problem, Kessi worked with the City and local businesses to create a map of available spaces for shoppers and diners. And he met regularly with business owners to address other concerns.
"I met with Patrick Kessi in the early planning stages, because he knew I was involved with several City committees, the Chamber, the Arts Council, the Rotary Club," says Carol Winston, former owner of the Accessories From the Heart gift shop that occupied the corner of Second Street and A Avenue when construction began. "He wanted to know from me what a good product mix would be in that center."
Winston, who was chair of Lake Oswego's Downtown Business Association, says she became concerned when construction crews blocked off the sidewalk on the south side of A Avenue between First and Second streets. "It was right before the holidays," she says, "and people weren't going to cross the street, walk the block and cross back over."
To her surprise, developers took her complaint to heart and built a covered walkway to reopen foot traffic.
"I have to give them kudos for listening," she says.
For other downtown business owners, it wasn't that easy. Doug Lee is the owner of Holy Taco in Lake View Village on First Street. He operated the popular Italian restaurant Zeppo in the same space from 2003 until 2016 when, in just a year, Zeppo went from having its best year to having its worst.
"I lost 40 percent of my business in just one year — $850,000 in revenue," Lee says. "The people, they just quit coming. You can't survive that."
The way Lee sees it, the only thing that changed from 2015 to 2016 was the construction taking place right across the street from his storefront.
"In the back of your mind, you always know you're taking a chance in closing something that was almost an institution. People loved Zeppo, and for great reason," he says.
But Lee decided to pivot. He surveyed the market and realized there wasn't really an option for sit-down, high quality Mexican food in the immediate vicinity. Thus, Holy Taco was born — although it hasn't provided much relief from what Lee characterizes as a lack of foot traffic and a stigmatized location.
Still, Lee says he's optimistic about the infusion of vitality that The Windward promises to bring.
"It's like holding your breath and feeling like you're going to run out of air," he says. "I believe it will (bring prosperity) when it's completed, if they're on top of the parking issues and they can make it a traffic friendly environment."
Inside the completed Windward waits 200 new residences ready for empty nesters, young professionals and those who want to be close to the parks, theaters, galleries and shops in downtown Lake Oswego. The project's three buildings were designed with distinctly Lake Oswego styles in mind: English Tudor, Oregon Rustic, and Arts and Crafts.
"We wanted the project to really fit the character of the neighborhood and community," Kessi says. "We chose high-quality materials like brick and stone, materials that were already prevalent in Lake Oswego, to make sure this project will stand the test of time not only from a structural standpoint, but also a design standpoint."
With more than 160 different floor plans, each unit has its own unique charm. Leasing is well underway, with monthly rents that range from $1,648-$6,917. The development will also offer 43,000 square feet of commercial space and parking for 430 cars, of which 135 spaces will be for public parking.
"The great thing is we're adding 135 spaces of public parking. We think it's really going to help when the farmers market is down here in the summer," Kessi says.
For Bob Martinsson, a Lake Oswego Chamber of Commerce board member and co-owner of Glance Optics and Eyewear, the opening of The Windward signals a major shift for the downtown core and a boon for businesses on all ends of the district.
"The downtown has not been bustling," Martinsson says. "But this project is adding 20 percent more storefronts to a three-block area. That is going to make it bustle."
Martinsson says he's also excited to see the influx of new residents who will hopefully bring increased vitality to the area at all hours.
"It's more feet on the street," he says. "That's significant."
Perhaps no one is more excited than Shaw-Ryan, who is moving Chuckie Pies from its location on Fifth Street to a spot at the First Street entrance to The Windward's pedestrian alley. She says the project represents the long-term vision of Gene Wizer, who expressed hope that one day the Wizer Block might be a buzzing epicenter of the community.
Shaw-Ryan says she plans to pay homage with a few things inside her new space that will be a nod to Wizer, who died shortly after seeing The Windward break ground.
"I love the design part of it. That's something I'm passionate about," Shaw-Ryan says. "We'll have two ovens, a larger bar presence, different table configurations so we can accommodate large families and a great outdoor seating area. It's always fun to work from a raw space and execute a vision. That's really one of my favorite parts of the whole process."
Shaw-Ryan says that not only is Chuckie Pies expanding its space, but it will now offer lunch and dinner, seven days a week. While the menu will remain the same, Shaw-Ryan does have a few new things and a couple of surprises up her sleeve to entice loyal customers and attract new ones.
"We're trying to get that local living room vibe," she says. "You're coming to our house for dinner. I just happen to be serving pizza. Really, it's about welcoming you in and making it easy for you."
Bamboo Sushi will set up shop across from Chuckie Pies, and Salt & Straw will serve ice cream right around the corner. Lake Oswego's own StarCycle will also move into the new development, as well as Richard Henry Barber Company and Adorn boutique.
For Kessi, finding a good mix of Lake Oswego businesses with loyal customers and Portland businesses with regional acclaim was important to the development. He's confident the mix of businesses The Windward has already landed, plus those yet to be revealed, will provide shoppers, diners and new residents with everything they need right in the heart of downtown Lake Oswego.
"We think The Windward will be a gathering place for a healthy mix of people — young professionals, empty nesters, businesses, restaurants and retailers," Kessi says. "It's a place to live, shop, dine and play in the beautiful downtown core of this city."
For more information about The Windward, including an interactive map that displays apartment floorplans and more, go to http://www.livethewindward.com.