Cities see slight slowdowns in construction during COVID-19 pandemic
While city planners in Beaverton, Tigard and Tualatin have seen some downturn in construction during the COVID-19 pandemic, projects already in the works are moving ahead at a steady clip.
At the same time, no one is quite sure if the slowdowns are related specifically to the fallouts caused because of coronavirus or are due to other factors.
"I think at this point it is kind of hard to say 'here's the trend' and you know, 'here's the impact of COVID-19' because it's a little up and down week by week," said Cheryl Twete, Beaverton's community development director. "But overall, we are definitely down in terms of new applications coming in for building and site development in particular."
And while construction may be down from the extremely busy boom of the last five years, Twete said, in many ways, it's business as usual. Planners are keeping busy with land-use approval applications. Building inspectors are still out doing their jobs while ensuring they don the appropriate protective clothing and maintain social distancing.
"Building and site development are where we are seeing the slowdown," said Twete. "Projects that are under construction, almost all of them are continuing, and we have some big ones under construction right now."
Tigard is also seeing a decrease in construction this year, compared to both 2018 and 2019, according to Mark VanDomelen, a city building official.
"I can't say it is all related to the COVID-19 virus as the general timing of when projects are ready to start can have a large impact on activity," VanDomelen wrote in an email. "We have several large projects that are finishing up the land use process and will be issued soon. This includes a few mixed-use residential apartment/condo projects."
Tualatin has experienced a slight decrease in the number of permit applications received in March, April and May, compared to the previous year.
"There have been scheduled changes overall for most projects, but for the most part, projects are moving along steadily," said Aquilla Hurd-Ravich, Tualatin's community development director. "As it commonly is, weather may be a bigger factor than the pandemic at this time."
Hurd-Ravich said one major project that has "marched along steadily" during the pandemic is PGE's construction of a massive operations facility at Southwest Tualatin-Sherwood Road and 124th Avenue. The 108,000-square-foot center, being built on 43 acres of property, will eventually house up to 350 employees and is being constructed to withstand manmade and natural disasters.
As far as new construction is concerned, what the banks are willing — and not willing — to do is impacting construction as well.
"What we're hearing from our customers is that for new projects, most lenders are not making commitments at this point," Twete said. "And that might change next week. That might change in a month or two but there's so much uncertainty in the world right now. Things are just slowing down."
Recently, federal economists announced that the U.S. economy is officially in a recession. That announcement was considered all but certain after millions of Americans were laid off due to the pandemic and economic shutdowns in many states. However, it's still significant for financial institutions and developers, who premise much of the business that they do on economic forecasts. If the outlook is negative, they will typically be more conservative with their future commitments.
Big Beaverton projects underway include the 43,000-square-foot Patricia Reser Center for the Arts complex being built at The Round off Southwest Hall and Cedar Hills boulevards. It is set to open in late 2021. Also, construction is continuing on a 350-space parking garage next to the complex, said Twete.
Kitty-corner from those projects is the construction of the 125-room Hyatt House, which will include a ground-level restaurant and bar, set for completion in December of this year.
Underway too, at the former Kmart retail site along Murray Boulevard at Tualatin Valley Highway is a new project known as West End, currently under construction. It is expected to have 508 multi-family units along with 36,320 square feet of retail space.
"It will be pretty unique outside the downtown for that kind of a housing product," said Twete. "It's well under construction."
There's also ongoing construction in two adjacent neighborhoods: South Cooper Mountain in Beaverton and River Terrace in Tigard, burgeoning subdivisions that surround Mountainside High School on both sides of Southwest Scholls Ferry Road.
VanDomelen said while the city saw a slowdown in detached single-family housing, things have been picking up in the River Terrace subdivision, as well as other, smaller "infill" housing projects.
"An area that has stayed very active is our tenant improvement commercial permits," said VanDomelen. "Tigard has a lot of leasable commercial space and we have continued to permit and inspect a lot of these types of projects."
Projects that have continued during the pandemic include the Fields apartments being built on Southwest Hunziker Street. The project includes five four-story buildings with a total of 264 units, along with a single-story clubhouse, said VanDomelen.
Also well underway is the five-story Hampton Inn Hotel, a 152-room structure with a parking garage, which will occupy 87,872 square feet of property on Southwest 69th Avenue.
In addition, the Tigard-Tualatin School District is still working on the renovation of Tigard High School, having just finished remodeling Templeton Elementary School, and the construction of a new Twality Middle School to replace the old school building. Those projects are funded by a bond issue approved by voters in 2016.
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