Southeast Portland expects big benefits from transit projects

by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Mayor Charlie Hales and a dozen city staff mounted bikes to tour areas ripe for development due to TriMets new Portland-Milwaukie MAX line. The gritty industrial area in inner Southeast Portland might be unrecognizable a decade from today.

City officials expect a burst of new development thanks to the MAX line being built through the area, the recent trolley-line extension, and new bicycle and pedestrian access to downtown on the transit bridge taking shape on the Willamette River.

“The transit access is going to take it from a backwater to two stops from downtown,” said Lew Bowers, Portland Development Commission’s central city division manager, during a bicycle tour of the area last Thursday. The inner Southeast industrial area has the best development potential of any area in the central city right now, Bowers said.

He was one of a dozen city employees accompanying Mayor Charlie Hales on the two-hour tour, which enabled city development, planning and transportation staff to brief the mayor and his aides. City staff also used the time to stress their needs from other bureaus — a zone change here, better road access there, a tweak to the Central Eastside urban renewal area — to spur more development.

Hales, who spent much of his private-sector career in real estate development-oriented jobs, peppered staff with questions, especially about how to build better access to the riverfront on the inner-east side.

Though many Portlanders don’t venture into the area unless they are visiting the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, the area is getting showered with public investment in new roads, bridges, bike paths and transit. One example, dubbed the Clinton to the River project, will enable bicyclists on the Clinton Street bike route in Southeast Portland to zip across the river on the new transit bridge. That could open up new housing opportunities on the east side for Portland State University and Oregon Health & Science University students and employees, as well as ease some of the bike congestion on the Hawthorne Bridge.

Though rents are going up in the area, that isn’t slowing demand for businesses that like the area’s charms, said Geraldine Moyle, a senior project manager for the PDC.

“We have a lot of software companies that would like to be in this area, but right now they can’t,” she said.

Joe Zehnder, the city’s chief planner, said the area eventually could be dotted with highrise buildings much like the South Waterfront district across the river. There’s a 25-year supply of land for development there, he said. “It’s going to be wildly different” in as little as 10 years.

Much of the focus of the bike tour was on development in and around the new MAX stops in the area, near OMSI and Clinton Street.

OMSI hopes to capitalize on the new stop near the museum with more intense development on its sprawling parking lot and other available land.

Several other entities own big chunks of land in the area considered ripe for future development: Stacy & Witbeck, the MAX contractor that snapped up land in the area; NW Natural, the natural gas utility that owns a parcel with a deep hole as if ready for underground parking; Portland General Electric; and the city, which owns a fire bureau facility that could be relocated. In addition, Fred Meyer and the Portland Opera could seek more intense developments on their parking lots, city staff said.

Hales rode a Trek hybrid bike sporting a bumper sticker that reads “Portland is just an avenue in Minneapolis.” It was part of a deal struck with that city’s mayor, Hales said, when Minneapolis topped Portland in one magazine’s ratings of the best city for biking in the United States.

With the new bridge across the Willamette, though, Portland could see a burst of bicyclists crossing to and from downtown, and moving to the inner Southeast to take advantage.

Steve Law can be reached at

503-546-5139 or [email protected]

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