It's been nearly two decades since the first developer contemplated building something new on the Wizer Block in downtown Lake Oswego.
But 16 years and several iterations of the project later, The Windward — a 290,000-square-foot mixed-use development — is officially welcoming new residents, retailers and restaurants to the site of what once was a 1960s-era, red-brick shopping center owned by the Wizer family.
A festive Grand Opening Celebration is planned for July 12, with tours of model apartments and community gathering spaces leaving every 10 minutes from a well-appointed central courtyard. In many ways, the development looks as if it has been here for years.
But the block's transformation from Wizer to Windward took more than two years to complete, and the project was many more years in the making before that. All the way back in 1998, Lake Oswego city leaders outlined a plan for revitalizing the downtown area, and it centered on mixed-use developments that would include both commercial and residential space.
Gene Wizer had owned the property at A Avenue and First Street since moving his grocery store there in 1960, and he had initially considered remodeling the building during the 1990s. Eventually, though, he was persuaded to pursue redevelopment of what is officially known as Block 137.
Wizer explored three potential partnerships, none of which came to fruition, before he began working with Patrick Kessi and PHK Development.
"My first thought 19-and-a-half years ago was to remodel the building," Wizer told The Lake Oswego Review in 2015. "I had three or four architects (draft) designs for remodeling. But my immediate family said, 'We're not going to do a remodel; we want to do a redevelopment.' Then I met Pat (Kessi) five years ago — he's such a great guy."
Kessi proved to be "the right partner," according to Wizer, and the two reached an agreement in 2012, eventually settling on a plan for a mixed-use development that would feature three buildings, with retail space on the ground floor and luxury apartments on the floors above.
Lake Oswego city leaders supported the project as a way to further their vision for downtown. The city became a partner in the project as well, paying a portion of the construction cost in exchange for the inclusion of public parking spaces in the future building's underground garage.
The project faced opposition from local neighborhood groups as it worked its way through Lake Oswego's design review process, and when the City Council gave final approval to the design, the decision was challenged in court. But the Oregon Court of Appeals rejected opponents' arguments in November 2015, and when the state Supreme Court refused to hear the case, the project had the green light it needed to continue.
The development that would eventually become The Windward broke ground at a ceremony attended by more than 200 business owners, city officials and project dignitaries. Kessi and Wizer wielded ceremonial gold shovels to turn over the first scoops of dirt, along with Lake Oswego Mayor Kent Studebaker and Bart Ricketts, the CEO of construction contractor Lease Crutcher Lewis.
Tragically, the groundbreaking turned out to be one of Wizer's final public appearances. He passed away in December 2015 at the age of 77 following a battle with cancer, and was fondly remembered by Lake Oswego community members, who emphasized the central role that he and his businesses had played in the life of the city for so long.
"I can remember when I was in high school, we used the lower parking lot of his Oswego facility for the YMCA fundraiser of installing seatbelts — that was in 1961," Studebaker told The Review shortly after Wizer's death. "Gene was very generous in allowing us to do that. He's been very generous to the Lake Oswego community for a long time."
At the construction site, crews made short work of the original structure, with the last of the demolition work completed by mid-December 2015. After that, the work turned to digging a massive pit that would eventually house The Windward's two levels of underground parking.
The work remained steady throughout the project's first winter season, even as crews contended with a deluge of rainy weather and an unexpected number of large boulders that had to be extracted, some the size of small cars.
Through it all, a pair of auger rigs worked their way around the perimeter of the block, drilling a series of holes for the pilings to support the future buildings. With the last of the pilings in place by mid-January 2016, work began on the building foundations.
Two yellow tower cranes were added to the site during the following months as work began on the buildings' central reinforced concrete structures. The floors were built one at a time, each supported by an array of temporary metal poles until the concrete cured and became strong enough to support the level above.
"In a nutshell, we dug a gigantic hole, shored it, and now we're bringing it back up," project co-superintendent Ryan Browne told The Review at the time.
By June 2016, the first of the three buildings had risen high enough to be visible above the top of the cloth-draped chain-link fence that surrounded the block, and the others followed over the course of the summer.
Two of the three buildings "topped out" — reaching their full designed height — at a ceremony in September 2016. All of the project's construction crew members gathered for a celebratory lunch on the ground floor of the eastern building, signing their names on the final girder that was then hoisted into place at the top of the building.
Construction moved to the buildings' roofs and exterior walls during the project's second year, and the three concrete skeletons gradually transformed into fully fleshed-out buildings, each taking on aspects of one of the three architectural styles that define downtown Lake Oswego — English Tudor, Oregon Rustic and Arts and Crafts, all of which feature pitched and gabled roofs with visible chimneys and wood and stone elements in the siding.
"We wanted the project to really fit the character of the neighborhood and community," Kessi says. "We chose high-quality materials like brick and stone, materials that were already prevalent in Lake Oswego, to make sure this project will stand the test of time not only from a structural standpoint, but also a design standpoint."
The eastern tower crane was removed in May 2017, but its western counterpart remained in place to continue unloading deliveries for the roofers, framers, masons and other craftsmen who were all hard at work on the interior of the buildings. The following month, Kessi unveiled the new name for the mixed-use development, and the Wizer Block officially became The Windward.
The second tower crane was dismantled in December 2017, and crews began peeling back the fence that had surrounded the block for more than two years, giving Lake Oswego residents their first opportunity for an up-close view of downtown's newest addition.
Today, 200 new residences await empty nesters, young professionals and those who want to be close to the parks, theaters, galleries and shops in downtown Lake Oswego. With more than 160 different floor plans, each unit has its own unique charm. Leasing is well underway, with monthly rents that range from $1,648-$6,917.
The development also offers 43,000 square feet of commercial space and parking for 430 cars, of which 135 spaces are for public parking. The Windward's first retail tenants include local favorites like Chuckie Pies and the first suburban branch of Salt & Straw, Portland's premier local ice cream parlor.
The Windward's leasing office officially opened in January and began offering tours. The final few months of construction in early 2018 were a flurry of activity both inside and out as crews finished up painting and installing gutters, downspouts and canopies.
But by mid-May, when Salt and Straw opened its doors at the corner of A Avenue and First Street, visitors had a full view of The Windward, finished and ready to serve as a new centerpiece for downtown Lake Oswego. And on the floors above, the first tenants settled into their new apartments, completing a vision that began almost two decades ago.
WATCH THE TRANSFORMATION
Check out the transformation of the Wizer Block into The Windward in a cool video produced by The Review's Alvaro Fontan. You'll find it online at tinyurl.com/WizerToWindward.
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