Design-friendly developer Project^ invents new district in Northwest Portland.
Project^ is the developer behind such design-friendly projects as Swift Headquarters at Northwest 16th Avenue and Overton Street; Union Way, the hipster mall arcade opposite the Ace Hotel; and the cross-laminated timber tower Framework at Northwest 10th Avenue and Glisan Street.
Project^ has christened the area under the west end of the Fremont Bridge the Frontside District. In a retro touch they call Northwest Front Avenue "Front Street" and say it "provides the Frontside District a direct connection to the rest of the Central City."
This deadzone, currently home to the Dockside Tavern of (Tanya Harding rubbish scandal fame) will be jumpstarted by a project^ project called Field Office. The $100 million project has broken ground and when completed will resemble two multilayered office and retail buildings split by a walkable courtyard.
The site resembles a trapezoid, flanked by Highway 30 and the busy railroad.
Class A digs
Field Office is a spec project. It will provide 300,000 square feet of office space for technology and creative services companies moving to or already in the Portland market. It's designed to catch the 'out of the suburbs and back to the city' vibe.
The buzzwords are "collaborative spaces and connections to the surrounding community." The goal is to "combine the amenities of traditional Class A office space with the creative atmosphere typically only available in older repurposed buildings."
The land was owned by Guardian Real Estate who sold it after just one year, finding it hard to develop.
"It's one of the largest available parcels in the city, so we knew we had to move fast," project^ partner Jonathan Ledesma told the Business Tribune.
For Field Office, the big money is being put up by National Real Estate Advisors of Washington, D.C., which manages pension funds. Project^'s principal Tom Cody has worked with them in the past.
Large plate special
Ledesma says there are plenty of apartments being built (he even suggests that rents have peaked), but that Portland still needs good office space. In particular, creative office space, where teams can collaborate and the architecture feels so comfortable people want to come to work.
"People want large floor plates, which are hard to find in the city."
Also part of his outlook is the belief: "People move here because of the location and to be close to nature." At Field Office they will be in the fumey wake of the freeway bridge, next to an active railroad, but there will be nature in the form of oversize balconies that function as green spaces, as well as a green roof to look at.
"We use entrances to connect to nature. Like at Union Way (the hipster shopping arcade) you don't realize you're outside. With Front Office we said 'Let's design a landscape first.' That's why it's two buildings with a large plaza. It's brings the landscape into the building and up, into what we're calling high parks."
He cites the Ace Hotel lobby where "everyone is working. We want to blur the lines" between work and leisure spaces. The valuable work going on in modern offices is the exchange of information, between people and computers, in a fluid dynamic.
There are other businesses in the so-called Frontside District: Schoolhouse Electric, a magnet for entrepreneurs and makers, is a few blocks north. Also nearby are small but growing brands such as Olympia Provisions, Steve Smith Teamaker, Ristretto Roasters, Finex Cast Iron Cookware and Steelcase office furniture. Project^ itself has its office at 1116 N.W. 17th Ave., its white neon sign visible next to the now shuttered Bent Brick restaurant.
Ledesma that having architectural design background themselves, he and his two partners can get the most out of architects while still retaining fiscal responsibility.
"We place value on design, and we let architects do what they do," says Ledesma. But it's rooted in financial rigor. We say 'That looks good, but is it profitable?' We're running a business. That's who we are."
Ledesma calls project^ a "values-driven real estate developer." Their mission statement says they "provid(e) resources, practices, and stewardship for our partners…and maximize environmental, social, and economic benefits inherent in meaningful places."
For Field Office to mean anything it will have to be full. And for that it is depending on Portland's steady in-migration, plus the ability of businesses to keep expanding and moving to bigger, better spaces.
"We knew we wanted it to be offices, and then we talked to Hacker Architects," the architect on the project. Only then do we get into materials, form and heights. The back and forth between developer and architect is a "constant conversation: we speak their language," he says. "We like to push things, so long as it's rooted in financial rigor."
Ledesma and Tom Cody already knew Corey Martin, a principal at Hacker Architects, so that was a good fit.
As for the Dockside, a rough wooden tavern with odd hours that harks back to when longshoremen worked nearby, it will continue to sit on the corner of the lot. The owners wouldn't sell.
"We didn't pursue it. The former owner of the land did, but we didn't. We have so much land that we didn't need to own it."
Field Office key players
Tom Cody, Managing Partner at project^
Jeff Kanne, President and CEO of National Real Estate Advisors
Corey Martin, principal at Hacker Architects
Project^ partner Jonathan Ledesma highlighted some of the company's other projects, which include:
- The Black Box Building on Southwest 12th Avenue (trendy stores such as Shinola),
- The Emory, an apartment building near the Streetcar stop that is the first Zidell development in South Waterfront,
"With the Emory we wanted to get away from the feeling that South Waterfront was this vertical gated community, where you drive into your building and disappear. We wanted to bring back the idea of the front porch, so it's set back."
- Treehouse, affordable student housing high on OHSU's Pill Hill, and
- Arthouse, student housing on the North Park Blocks for Pacific Northwest College of Art students