The Glass Lab offers hip hub for start-ups
Even before The Glass Lab welcomed its first official tenant in Portland's eastside Innovation Quadrant, artist Erik Markovs was moving in his oversized mixed-media artwork.
The recently renovated two-story building, which once housed a glass foundry, is designed to serve as a community-oriented hub of office and manufacturing space for small start-up innovators and creators. ScanlanKemperBard (SKB), the building's owner and developer, offered Markovs a chance to hold create a pop-up art show in one of the second-floor office suites to highlight the versatility of the newly created spaces in the building on the corner of Southeast Mill Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.
Even though he's currently the only one in The Glass Lab, Markovs can feel the potential for innovation and collaboration in both the building and the neighborhood.
"That Portland DIY spirit, it's here," he said.
Quantifying the quadrant
The do-it-yourself innovation of start-up businesses fueling fast-growing industries such as biotech, apparel and product design, and automated manufacturing is precisely what Portland's Innovation Quadrant is designed to encourage and support.
The idea to create an innovation quadrant in Portland started in 2014 as the result of a conversation between Oregon Health & Science University, Portland State University, Portland Community College and the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry. The groups were looking to align their priorities better and find opportunities to work on joint research projects and possibly share some facilities.
Since then, the city has identified developing an Innovation Quadrant as one of six "big ideas" for the Central City area as part of Portland's 2035 Comprehensive Plan, Troels Adrian, business and industry manager at Prosper Portland, told a group gathered for a tour of the building organized as part of a CREW Portland event earlier this month.
Developing the quadrant consists of several multiple layers of efforts, from promoting start-up businesses and institutional partners to finding ways to showcase innovation. The plan also calls for the development of collaborative hubs of creative office and manufacturing space within the quadrant, which includes sites such as Zidell Yards and OHSU's Schnitzer campus on the west side of the city and OMSI and the ODOT Blocks on the east side.
The city's Central Eastside Industrial District especially offers opportunities for developers to turn older buildings into creative office and manufacturing spaces for established businesses, start-up innovators and creators. Designing spaces for that latter group, however, comes with its own set of unique requirements and can be especially challenging when it comes to renovating an existing 1960s industrial building like the one that now houses The Glass Lab.
Start-ups — especially those working in areas served within an innovation quadrant — often want shorter leases than usually available in office or commercial buildings, according to John Olivier, senior vice president of acquisitions and development for SKB. With that in mind, The Glass Lab will offer leases ranging from one to three years, Olivier said.
Start-ups also usually have limited or small budgets. That means low rents are necessary to attract and retain those ventures. One solution for new and renovated buildings is to create one space large enough to attract an established or traditional business as an anchor tenant, which then allows the building owner to charge less for smaller spaces in the same building for start-ups.
Another way to keep rents low for start-up tenants is to use basic materials in creative ways. That was the approach that SKB and its project team, which included Tryba Architects as project architect and Lorentz Bruun Construction as general contractor, tapped for The Glass Lab, Olivier said.
"We kept construction costs low, so that keeps rents low," Olivier said.
Polycarbonate panels, for example, were used in place of drywall to divide open spaces in a way that allows light to permeate those areas while still providing privacy for tenants. Second-floor office suites feature storefront glass facing a main hall and lobby area to bring in light while also creating a sense of connectivity that supports the concept of collaboration between tenants.
Using basic materials doesn't mean skimping on unique details, however. The Glass Lab, for example, features colorful murals. The project team also kept features that pay tribute to the history of the building. Two overhead cranes, while no longer operational, have been retained in a loading dock area and in one of the larger office suites. Suites on the four corners of the building offer mezzanines, one of which provides a view of a metal sign bearing the name "Milwaukee Mach. Co." on a rigging beam of one of the cranes.
"We tried to leave a lot of the original structure in place," Olivier said. "Every space is just a little bit different."
Even with a nod to its history, the building still offers modern-day features and amenities. Tenants will have individual control of the sound systems. The building also comes outfitted with the latest technology when it comes to connectivity, with levels of that service available based on individual tenant needs. In addition to bike parking and having a stop on the Portland Streetcar line right outside its door, the building is a Spin scooter partner, with 12 freshly charged scooters dropped off every morning.
The ground floor features a flexible space for events. A space with a loading dock, for example, features handrails that can be removed to create a stage area. A full kitchen, also on the first floor, can be used as a food preparation area for catering, a feature that came in handy when The Glass Lab recently served as the location for the 10th-anniversary celebration of the Portland Incubator Experiment.
While the end result of The Glass Lab is easy on the eyes, the actual renovation wasn't without challenges. Energy compliance is always an issue in older buildings, and The Glass Lab structure was no exception, according to Erik Frame, project manager for Lorentz Brunn. Steps to meet the city's energy compliance codes included adding roof insulation and upgrading windows. In addition, a "small patch" of wall areas also needed additional insulation, Frame said.
The Glass Lab project, like most renovations of older buildings, also came with some unexpected challenges during the construction process.
"On some of these older buildings, you can run into unforeseen things, whether it's an underground issue, rotted wood," Frame said. "We'll have a place where there's just a beam sticking out that nobody designed, that was already there, so now we have to find some way to fix it. Sometimes that can have impacts on cost and schedule, and you just have to find a way to manage around it."
While tariffs didn't have a noticeable impact on obtaining materials for the project, the construction team did run into a slight delay when some original choices for the aluminum windows weren't available.
"We spent four weeks running around trying to figure out a solution," Frame said.
Even with unexpected hurdles and delays, Lorentz Bruun was able to keep work on track. SKB purchased the building for $6.3 million at the beginning of the summer of last year. The renovation work began in October and finished up this past August.
Occupancy approval was received at the beginning of September. Knowing that start-up businesses tend to wait to find space until a few weeks before it is needed, SKB held off on starting to market the spaces in the building. With that paperwork in hand, SKB is now actively looking for tenants, including a food-and-beverage business for a space with outdoor seating capacity and an entrance separate from the main building entry
The development company isn't finished with projects in the Innovation Quadrant. SKB has plans to fill a lot it owns at 1921 S.E. Third Avenue with a new nine-story building with 140,000 square feet of office space. Scott Edwards Architecture has completed about 30% of the design for the building, according to Olivier. Lorentz Bruun is on board as general contractor. Right now, though, there's no set start date for construction.
SKB also owns a piece of land at 1883 S.E Third Avenue, across from the where the office building will be constructed, that it purchased from the city. The firm is considering building a parking structure there but has no immediate plans to move forward with that project.
Art in the lab
For years, Erik Markovs worked in the Foreign Service, living in Pakistan, Germany, Colombia and other countries. However, he had long harbored a dream of giving it all up to become a painter and photographer.
Earlier this year, he decided to give himself one year to pursue becoming a self-supporting artist. He moved to Portland to "give it a shot."
Now Markovs' first exhibit, a collection of mixed-media pieces, is housed in an office suite on the second floor of The Glass Lab. In addition to showcasing the artist's work, the pop-up art show is designed to offer visitors a chance to see the newly renovated building.
The exhibit will run through Oct. 27. Hours are noon to 6 p.m. on Monday, Thursday and Sunday; and noon to 8 p.m. on Friday and Saturday.
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