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ZIDELL'S WATERFRONT VISION
Family-owned neighborhood will link outdoorsy amenities with scientific innovation district.
Zidell Yards, that 33 acre parcel around the old barge building business near South Waterfront's OHSU campus, is going to be developed as a neighborhood.
A neighborhood owned by one family.
Real estate consultant Tom Henneberry was all set to present the master plan to the City on December when it was postponed by snow. One thing is clear: ZRZ Realty Company, which is run by Jay Zidell's nephew Matt French, aims to hold on to the land. The long-term goal is to bring in partners for projects but not giving up control. In a preview with the Business Tribune, the company presented a unified vision which combines office, retail and housing, along with several open spaces. It totals 1,5 million square feet of office space and 2.2 million square feet for residential, including a good proportion of multi-family housing.
They expect groundbreaking to occur in 2018, with the first building to open in the Fall of 2020.
The key features are as follows:
Heritage Park: this is a 1.25 acre paved plaza beside the Tram station.
The gantry crane will be moved and possibly repainted in a different color from its current light blue, and stand as a piece of sculpture.
"The Tram carries 60,000 people a week, so this is already a very active area," says Henneberry.
Benches and tables would invite people to linger and eat. There is currently a small food cart scene nearby, but this might enable it to expand, assuming enough people adopt it as the focal point of the area on a workday.
The floating dock: The slipway for the barges will be transformed into a boat ramp for pleasure craft. Next to it will be a floating jetty (one that rises and falls with the tide) incorporating a swimming pool. The goal is to lure families and recreationalists from throughout the city (many of whom are expected to arrive by transit) and provide them with safe and free access to the Willamette River — better than downtown.
Bridge Park (under the Ross Island Bridge): This narrow, noisy site has one virtue: the bridge deck overhead keeps the rain off. Henneberry says they plan to activate the space by making a park under the west end of the Ross Island Bridge, with courts for basketball and bocci ball, and permanent ping pong tables. And, of course, a dog park.
Meadow Park: Further north, this is the largest park and will have slight hills and a pathway down to the riverfront greenway. "We want the buildings to have views to the river, and invite the public into those spaces."
Henneberry calls October's announcement of the closing of the barge business a key moment. "It allowed us to focus in on this area with some specificity as to when it would be available for redevelopment. That allowed us to get in a stronger marketing effort."
In translation, once you can put a timetable on a patch of dirt, you can begin selling. That barge is scheduled to launch at the end of May or the beginning of June 2017.
As soon as it's gone, the clean up begins. That doesn't mean remediation. Henneberry says that is complete. The soil contamination from the shipbreaking industry was capped. Then it will be time to move the barge equipment away and begin building streets and utilities.
Henneberry talks with an easy surety of how land and buildings will be transformed. "The (blue) barge building is going to be adaptively reused. We'll take the top and the sides off, and cut Southwest River Parkway though it."
He told the Business Tribune that master plans are more than a rough guide. "The majority of downtown Portland is on the Portland Grid, the 200 feet by 200 feet block. What has been so interesting about the Zidell piece is the significant bend in the river, right at the Zidell property. We've taken advantage of this opportunity to create some open spaces."
The presentation to the Design Commission will take the form of a request for input.
If the Zidells say they want a public park in a certain place, there is no guarantee Portland Parks and Recreation will be able to fund its construction or staffing. "We like all the elements of this plan, we hope the Design Commission likes it. We're not asking them for anything, we just want their input. This is no formal request for approval."
"Portland is on the radar"
Henneberry stressed that although the family will own all 33 acres, they are not building a campus. "We'll have partners. The land has been in the family for 80 years, but we'll have partners who contribute equity, and we'll put debt on the property."
Henneberry's job is to talk to likely investors and sell them on the idea of a Zidell Yards neighborhood (it doesn't have another name yet.) These are not individuals, but institutions such as pension funds that want to sock their money away somewhere safe mid- to long-term. And banks. "Portland's on the radar," he says. "They come here, they're visiting, these are people with an interest in Portland."
These 33 acres are a subset of South Waterfront, which is 120 acres and is bounded by the Willamette River and Interstate 5. This, in turn, is a subset of the North Macadam Urban Renewal District, which totals 420 acres.
Once Tilikum Crossing opened and OHSU signed on to build three more buildings, ZRZ moved into high gear.
And liberty and parking for all
Despite the buzz about the area's strong non-car transportation links, cars will still come and they'll need parking. Given Portland's height limit of 250 for towers and 75 feet for the podiums on which they stand, designers have had to get creative about where they place parking. Because the contaminated soil is capped they cannot dig down more than one story for parking. So, in some places, whole three story podiums will be taken up by above ground parking structures. However, they will have retail on the ground floor to keep them human-friendly. The area may actually resemble the Brewery Blocks in Northwest Portland, and have the same feel as walking around near Whole Foods, Henry's 12th Street Tavern and Powell's Books.
"Retailers want to see we're for real," he adds, when asked how he goes about attracting them. The project hinges on how the city greets it, and how the master plan adapts to criticism and praise. Then there's the market. Just as he was in October when talking to the Business Tribune, Henneberry talks as if the ups and downs of the real estate market are out of his hands, and that the best strategy for the family is to hold on to the property long term.
Although there are sites marked RETAIL and HOTEL, this part of the plan is notional: a guide to what could be. Although Henneberry is pretty sure a waterfront hotel could work just north of the boat dock. He says OHSU, which employs 17,000 people, also attracts thousands of business travelers a year, not just patients' families.
"It's a blank slate," he says of the whole parcel of land. "There are very few opportunities like this in the country."
He compares it to working for Forest City Ratner Companies on the Navy Yard annex in Washington, D.C. That is a 42 acre, old industrial property on the riverfront. It had 5.5 million square feet of entitlements, with a marina, developed residential, retail and office, and a lot of open space and parks.
"We'll be best in class, when it comes to restaurants and open spaces." He expects there will be at least one grocery store going in.
The themes of the neighborhood will be a combination of health and wellness (outdoor activities, OHSU) and innovation, as in the Innovation Quadrant that is suppose to stretch from the research facilities and Collaborative Life Sciences Building, across the river to new developments on OMSI-owned land.
Most of the housing is expected to be rental. Henneberry says that's because it's easier for the Zidell family to control. "However, we might partner with a condo developer, on a joint venture."
It won't be a walk in the park for local architects. They can't assume they will get the lion's share of the design work. "We're talking about a 15 to 20 year build out. We get the infrastructure in, then we have building pads, then we get architects in, from all over the country."