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Monday, November 29, 2004

While I was out

Lost in the haze of the gluttonous weekend just past were a couple of news stories that deserved blog attention, but didn't get it. (Perhaps you missed a few items, too?) I'm going to try to catch up on them starting now.

The big bombshell was dropped in the O on Wednesday, but didn't catch my eye until I piled up the papers for recycling tonight: Zupan's Markets is not going through with its plan to open a new store in the condo tower being built at NE 16th and Weidler. The developer and Zupan's are slinging major kim chee at each other in a lawsuit, and the lease for the ground floor of the property has been cancelled.

Long-time readers of this blog know that this is really significant. The specter of a new Zupan's at that location, just northeast of Lloyd Center, apparently contributed to the demise of the once-proud Irvington Market. Times got tough for the produce operator in that market, and when he pulled out, no one was fool enough to step in and take on the impending Zupan's. Soon, without the fresh produce as a magnet, the rest of the shops in the market -- a butcher, a fish market, a deli, and a juice bar -- fell like dominoes. Now the nearest decent fresh fish is a 10-minute drive through Pearlie Hell to the City Market on NW 21st.

But the folks in the neighborhood took heart. Soon we'd have our $24-a-pound Copper River salmon right at our doorsteps once again, when Mr. Zupan opened another enchanted forest of high-end groceries at the foot of the condo tower.

Guess again.

Who knows why this aspect of the project failed? Was the developer acting in bad faith, was Zupan's, or were they both acting up? I smell somebody running out of money.

Meanwhile, the condo tower continues its hideous skyward climb. It's a bulky box, to say the least, with sidewalks on Weidler Street that are grotesquely narrow compared to the size and height of the building. There's no setback at all. Even with a prime anchor tenant, it would have been way too much building. With a collection of gumball stores on the ground floor -- like the motley crew of nondescript mall food court castoffs that now occupy the old Irvington Market space -- it will be a downright ugly place to be.

And forget about the surrounding properties. The poor florist on Broadway who held onto his fraction of a block rather than sell out to the condo weasels will likely live to regret his decision. His little skylight looks ridiculous now, surrounded on the south and west by multiple stories of housing. His plants will literally never see the sun. Ditto for the west-facing lots across the street on NE 17th. There will never be anything there now but another condo tower or "Fast Noodles on a Carousel R Us."

And you folks who are paying upwards of $800,000 to live in an apartment building on the corner of NE 16th and Weidler, let me give you an important link: here.

Ironically, in the same pile of newspapers I came across an article about how the folks in the raped and pillaged Lair Hill neighborhood (where the Mrs. and I lived for several years) are hoping to get some funding to rip out some of the obscene highway ramps that have destroyed their community for many decades. Now that the OHSU Aerial Tram is under construction, they can resume talking about some day, maybe, if there's ever any money for it, considering starting to eventually take the bridge approaches and freeway ramps out. But the neighbors will have to have patience -- a virtue that's not required of the rich doctors who will literally look down their noses into these folks' backyards in a couple of years. No waiting for grants when it's time to put money into Homer Williams's pockets. Just start ripping.

One of the factors that is listed in the article as wrecking the old Lair Hill are the condo towers that were built in the nearby South Auditorium district:

"It would help weave together sections of that neighborhood that have been pretty badly cut up by past transportation projects," Doss says.

Projects from the 1950s

Those projects, which include Interstate 5, Naito Parkway and the Ross Island Bridge's western end, were built primarily in the 1950s during the urban renewal of south Portland. Once a vibrant community of immigrants, the area began to lose energy with the opening of the Ross Island Bridge in 1926 and the rise of the automobile, according to neighborhood historian Stephen Leflar, who is in the planning group.

During the urban renewal in the 1950s, buildings on several dozen blocks were bulldozed and the roads were put in along with condominium towers.

It appears that building those towers is now acknowledged as some sort of mistake.

But if you're a developer on the City Council A List, 50 years later, you still get to make all the mistakes you want. No doubt the taxpayers will clean them up later.

Comments (10)

Another 1000 words on why condos and high density housing are ruining Portland.

Perhaps you're right, Jack. But I've said it before and I'll say it again: give us a viable alternative to providing housing for people moving to Portland.

You don't want sprawl (at least I hope) and you don't want high density housing. You just want everything to stay the same.

A noble ambition, I suppose. But so is ending poverty and achieving world peace. Noble ideas, but not very realistic.

Having had the benefit of leaving Portland for one of those liberal Northeastern states in the early 80's and returning in 96', I am amazed at how little has changed during those years.

Economic development is vital to the entire state of Oregon. It's nearly 2005 with a new medical facility and tram going up right over SW Gibbs Street where I bought my first house. I predict a revitilization of the Corbett neighborhood, all the way up to Gibbs. More jobs, more shops, renovated homes, more visitors to the Contempory Crafts Gallery. More med students, nurses, docs looking to live close to the tram. Growth and change aren't evil, Jack.

Jack, sorry to hear that about Zupans, my wife has been looking forward to having it in the neighborhood. Also, sorry to see all the businesses gone because of Zupans. We are a poorer community w/o the businesses.
Mover Mike

Mr Bog - You think Potter being elected will break the cabal of HomerW/RobBall et al? Slowly, this area is slowly looking like Vancouver, BC (Yaletown) without the views. Zero creativity or respect for anyone that lives in the respective neighborhoods.

I wish PDC would realize that all of the high traffic areas for shopping (NW23rd, Hawthorne, SE28th, NE Alberta/NPortland) surprise, surprise happened without Vera's help or social engineering or the trolley or any government participation.

ack, that does suck about zupans. for that area n. of Powell, east of the willamette, south of russell, west of 16th, there are no quality stores for groceries. i'm surprised other tenants aren't clammoring for the locale. jack, you may have a new career calling you.... high end grocery store owner.

A hell of a good, short expose! This is why I read this blog everyday! Thanks, and keep it up.

I bet Jack is right about "someone" running out of money. I wonder if part of the underlying friction is that grocery stores often reduce their risk by having a minimal flat rent plus 1-2% gross sales, and that the apparent fallout reflects the parties' different outlooks for the future success of the space.

Going through your litany of urban planning disaster, I found that I disagree with 100% of your comments:

1. "Hideous Skyward Climb." The building (and more like it is just what the doctor ordered for streets such as Broadway and Weidler. Similar development has been going up south of the downtown area (across False Creek/Bay) from downtown Vancouver BC, and the housing is finding favor with (surprise) families, who don't want the yard to keep up, not to mention the majority of American households that aren't traditional nuclear families.

Furthermore, a "tower" is not five stories high. Save that insult for the Pearl District (more later).

As for the sidewalks, it's hard to tell from the picture how "narrow" they will be. Hopefully they will be at least 12 feet wide, which is appropriate in such an urban environment.

As for the "raped and pillaged" Lair Hill neighborhood, the destruction was done when the freeway and 1960's style redevelopment went in. I think the tram is going to actually upgrade the neighborhood. And, after taking my wife to a 5 PM lecture at OHSU last night, the tram is desperately needed to relieve traffic congestion at one of the city's employment anchors, not just a "rich doctor" private skyway as you derisively call it.

The redevelopment did the usual thing at the time, closing off streets, making the remaining streets into traffic sewers, setting back buildings from the street, separating them with little-used greenery, etc. The Pearl District is being developed quite differently, enhancing the streets as public spaces (read Jane Jacobs "The Death and Life of Great American Cities, written over 40 years ago, for the concept).

In twenty years or so we'll know whether the developers or the naysayers were right about the Pearl District. I'm betting on the developers.

The sidewalks aren't going to be anywhere near 12 feet wide, unless they're going to take away part of the existing Weidler Street. In fact, it looks as though they will be substantially narrower than any of the others on nearby Weidler. If you approach the site from either the east or the west, you'll see how ovepowering this building is. It's way too much -- a blight even before it opens.

Out of curiousity, how did they did determine these guys got off with such a skinny sidewalk? My wife's partners wanted to build a small building 150 feet back from SE Powell (not to be confused with the Champs Elysees) and were told they needed to dedicate 2 extra feet of sidewalk on SE Powell. According to the BDS/Planning person, they get badgered all the time (think about the neighborhood around Docs/Safari Club on about 25th) about making sure new sidewalks are 12 feet wide for strolls.

Also, on the height of this thing, it is out of scale with the rest of the neighborhood which I think offends Mr Bog the most.

Nothing against the Pearl, I just don't understand the subsidies/taxbreaks/special projects for just the Pearl while the rest of the city is told to pound sand meanwhile.


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» Noted and/or newsworthy from My Whim Is Law
See what happens when I don't pay close attention to the local newspaper? I miss the big news of the neighborhood - we're not getting that Zupan's after all. Jack (who caught it as he was recycling his own batch... [Read More]

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