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Photo Credit: COURESTY RUSSELL DEVELOPMENT COMPANY - Two historic buildings at SW Oak and Naito Blvd next to which Wyndham Worldwide hopes to build a six-story timeshare hotel. What’s your mental image of Portland’s waterfront at Southwest Naito?


Tourists wandering around with large pink boxes and squinting at parking meters?

Or men in bowler hats and heavy wool suits chugging ale because the Benson Bubbler hasn’t been invented yet?

Vestiges of the bustling 19th Century waterfront remain, in real life and in the imaginations of Portland planners and property owners.

Wyndham Worldwide, which owns Wyndham Hotels and Resorts proposes to build a vacation rental property at 221 SW Naito Blvd, between Pine and Oak Streets. The six story, 66,000 square foot building will bring the timeshare lifestyle to a part of Old Town currently occupied by a surface parking lot. The 67 units would have balconies and range from studios to two bedrooms.

The two sides squared off, politely, at a recent pre-application conference at the Bureau of Development Services.

Oregon only has two national landmark historic districts. One is the cowboy town of Jacksonville in Southern Oregon. The other is the Skidmore-Old Town Historic District. Because the Wyndham is in the latter, it is subjected to strict Type III design review. Anything new has to fit in.

At 233 SW Naito there still exists Fechheimer Building, built in 1885, which has been made over into modern offices. Russell Development Company, which owns it, also owns a building on SW Oak St, the red brick Dielschneider building, which is the second oldest building in Portland, built in 1859.

Both are fully restored and open for business. John Russell was at the meeting to press his point that any building abutting his, or on that block, needs to fit in with the local architectural character.

Russell told the Tribune last Thursday that he is scheduled to meet a representative from Wyndham in the next two weeks to talk about the development.

“They heard pretty loud and clear their overall scheme would not pass landmarks,” he said.

The main issue is the orientation of the building, which from above is shaped like a U or a square bracket. Drawings from the designer, SERA Architects of Portland, had a courtyard facing Naito. Russell says the character of “Front Street” is to have a continuous wall of buildings, so the building will have to be flipped 180 degrees.

At the meeting, Kara Fioravanti, the City’s Senior Design Planner, said the orientation was “a bit of an anomaly for the district. I can imagine the commission will struggle with that. When you look at the old photos you see a strong consistent street wall.”

“What they presented was pretty sketchy, there were no elevations,” Russell said later. “I think what they heard is that in the landmark district you don’t have setback from the street frontage.”

An architect, Mark Vanderzanden was there representing the owner of 200 SW First St. Its historic east facing windows would be two feet from the proposed timeshare.

“It sounds like the city’s planning ordinances would prohibit them from doing that,” he said last week. Vanderzanden adds the city wants to maintain the historic character of the old buildings’ facades, and he was also concerned about maintaining daylight and ventilation.

Pre-application conferences are information-only meetings, a chance for City bureaus to get on the same page with a brand new development. They need to consider such things as, will the permits be tricky, how will the sewers be affected, is soil liquefaction possible? Transportation, Environmental Services, pollution prevention...they were all there.

It is still early in the process, and Wyndham has only released some two-dimensional plans. At the pre-application conference, Wyndham’s local architect, Jon McAuley from SERA, revealed he used to work in one of the renovated historic buildings affected and would welcome another look inside.

“And we would welcome the absence of a parking lot,” added Russell.

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