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With his latest project, developer Ben Kaiser creates a community with no limits on age or accessibility

COURTESY: KAISER GROUP/PATH ARCHITECTURE - Developed by Ben Kaiser and the Kaiser Group, the Canyons is a six-story, 70-unit mixed-use building that offers a middle-rate option both for people looking for an aging in place option as well as those who are looking highly accessible apartment designs.

When Ben Kaiser found himself in the position of needing to find an aging-in-place facility for his father, the Portland developer bumped into a hard reality: acceptable middle-market options were few and far between.

The facilities that offered an experience similar to the independent lifestyle that Kaiser's father — an active artist even in his 80s — had been living were priced far beyond the elderly man's budget, requiring hefty fees just to become a part of the community even before monthly charges were added.

Kaiser and his siblings wouldn't even consider the rest of the market.

"What a (person with a middle income) could afford, it was dispiriting, not a place that feels like home," Kaiser said.

The experience convinced Kaiser to come up with his own version of a middle-market model that would turn the traditional aging-in-place approach on its head. The end result is The Canyons, a six-story, 70-unit project rising in the Eliot neighborhood in North Portland. Although the 110,000 square-foot project sprang from trying to provide better housing options for an older population, the scope has expanded. Kaiser and his development company, the Kaiser Group, are billing the project as a barrier-free community with no age or accessibility restrictions.

When it opens in summer 2020, with a ground floor featuring a unique marketplace concept, The Canyons will offer a model that Kaiser thinks could be duplicated across Portland — and possibly across the country.

Open access

One of the most disheartening elements that Kaiser encountered during the search to find a suitable home for his father was the fact that so many of the facilities he looked at were located outside of urban areas. He'd seen studies that showed that isolation is one of the main factors that contributes to health issues and depression in older people.

Kaiser owned a piece of Portland property on North Williams Avenue that he thought might be the right spot for the project that he'd dubbed The Canyons. The area where the site was located rated scores of 94 and 88, based on 100-point scales, for ease of biking and walking, respectively. The area was filled with restaurants and retail outlets, including a New Seasons store right across the street.

COURTESY: KAISER GROUP/PATH ARCHITECTURE - Ben Kaiser, with his firm Kaiser Group, is developing The Canyons, slated to open in summer 2020.

Kaiser and his teams at Kaiser Group, as project developer, and Path Architecture, the designer for the project, identified a population in the area around the site that fit a target demographic for a middle-income, aging-in-place community. However, they also learned from studies that most older people say they prefer to be surrounded by a diverse age group. So, they threw out the age and accessibility limitations usually associated with traditional facilities for older people.

With an eye toward creating a no-barriers building, all areas of The Canyon's building have been designed to meet standards of the Americans With Disabilities Act — and then some. Each apartment, for example, features an open-floor plan with kitchen counters that are height adjustable and curb-less showers for easy access.

"The missing-middle ground is what we're trying to find an answer to. Would you live there? Would I live there? If the answer is 'no,' we're not doing it right," Kaiser said. 'With affordability in mind, we compared it with these high-end places that most elderly can't afford at all."

Rents for studios in the building will begin at $1,692 per month. One- and two-bedroom units will start at monthly rates of $1,939 and $3,247, respectively. In addition to offering month-to-month or standard one-year-lease options, Kaiser Group is working with its lender to possibly offer three-, five- and 10-year leases.

For those prices, tenants will have access to features commonly found in market-rate apartment buildings rising in Portland — from pet-washing stations to electric car charging stations. But The Canyons also will offer amenities that will separate The Canyons from both traditional multifamily developments and more traditional aging-in-place facilities.

An onsite wellness center at The Canyons will be staffed by concierges with training as paramedics able to administer immediate medical assistance if a tenant has a serious health issue or medical emergency, such as a heart attack.

"The concierge can order you an Uber or a Lyft, or the concierge can start your heart," Kaiser said.

PMG FILE PHOTO - Ben Kaiser, with his firm Kaiser Group, is developing The Canyons, slated to open in summer 2020.

Continuing with that focus on safety, all units will be equipped with voice-activated technology that will allow a tenant experiencing a medical situation to send an alert just by calling out. The communications system will be monitored around the clock. The system also will allow approved individuals, such as family members, to use the voice-activated feature to call into the unit and check on the tenant without using the phone.

The building's siting across the street from a New Seasons store isn't a coincidence. Instead, it highlights another unique feature that will be available for tenants of The Canyons. The development doesn't include the usual onsite kitchen and dining hall areas. Instead, building tenants will have the option to cook meals in their own units or order them a la carte from the commercial kitchen at the grocery store and have them delivered.

"When you first move in, you can walk across the street (to get your meals). Then, 10 years later, you can order in," Kaiser said. "That will keep you integrated in the community for as long as you can."

Partnering up

R&H Construction, serving as general contractor for The Canyons, and Kaiser became acquainted with each other when they were both working on separate projects at One North, a three-building development in North Portland.

"I think he saw us as a collaborative partner," Adam Petersen, a senior project manager with R&H, said.

In addition to that common mindset and approach, the general contractor also brings solid experience with mass timber construction to The Canyons project.

COURTESY: KAISER GROUP/PATH ARCHITECTURE - Units in the Canyons are designed to provide a no-barriers living experience, with design features such as adjustable-height countertops and curb-less showers.

The building features structural concrete on the lower portion, with wood-frame walls and CLT panels starting at the third level and going up to the roof. The ability to build the panels offsite and then set them in place in the building works well with a tight site that has little room to lay down materials.

Kaiser and R&H are taking special care to limit impact on the project's neighbors, right down to the type of construction crane selected for the project.

"We opted for a crane that's both taller and has a longer jib than you might normally use," Petersen said. "That will allow us to pick up loads off every corner of the site and not have to block (surrounding streets)."

The Kaiser and Path teams also worked extensively with the Portland Bureau of Transportation to come up with traffic plans that would ensure the safety and flow of pedestrians and bike riders.

"Williams is such a bike-centric corridor, we went through a lot of looking at how to not block the bike passage and how to give safe access for pedestrians while still bringing in materials," Petersen said.

Creating community

Showing consideration for neighborhoods during the construction process is the first step in establishing what Kaiser hopes will be a community at The Canyons that won't be limited to the building's tenants.

In a nod to Hoosiers Corp., a group from Tokyo that's an investor in the project, Kaiser's design firm, Path Architecture, included a ground-floor, open-air marketplace modeled after the Yokocho alleys in Japan. Kaiser experienced the concept on a visit to the country with his wife.

COURTESY: KAISER GROUP/PATH ARCHITECTURE - The Alley, a marketplace modeled on the yokocho alleys in Japan, will be open to the public and is designed to encourage pedstrians to move around and through the ground-floor area of The Canyons.

Narrow and short — sometimes no more than five feet across and a half-mile long or less — the bustling areas contain tiny stalls offering food and drinks, from sushi to sake. The version at The Canyons will run through the bottom floor of the building with access available to the public.

"We're going to curate this little alley so it's a place you and I would love to go," Kaiser said. "The alleyway will connect Ivy and Fremont (streets) ... so you can flow around and through the project."

The building's ground floor also features larger spots for lease. A Montessori school will occupy a 6,000 square-foot space and Kaiser said he's working with the school to set up a program that will allow tenants to interact with students as volunteers. A bar and a small Japanese grocery store have signed on for smaller spaces.

If The Canyons ends up working out as Kaiser envisions, there's a chance he may try to repeat the concept, ideally in locations situated close to other New Seasons stores to continue that partnership. Early interest in The Canyons indicates the model could be popular. Less than two months after the project's March groundbreaking, seven people have signed agreements of intent for units, while another 200 people have signed up to receive regular email updates about the project.

"Our intent is to create community and have it ready to go day one," Kaiser said.

Although his father has died and won't get to experience The Canyons, Kaiser said he thinks of the older man as the project moves forward.

"I think he would have enjoyed something like this," Kaiser said. "It's as much or as little interaction as you like, but with that safety net."

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