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Beam developer credits delays for better design



Photo Credit: TRIBUNE PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - A 21-story office building designed by SkyLab Architecture is under construction south of the Eastside Exchange in the Burnside Bridgehead project area.Portland is getting the Burnside Bridgehead project city leaders once rejected, and everyone is happy about it — especially Brad Malsin, the owner of Beam Development.

His proposal for the five-block site at the northeast end of the Burnside Bridge was turned down by the Portland Development Commission in 2006. Now, he already has redeveloped one building on the site and is deeply involved in the rest of the work.

Malsin is not angry he was passed over for the original project. In fact, Malsin believes the delay — caused by the Great Recession that brought almost all major construction work to an end for years — resulted in an improved version.

“It’s definitely better. We know a lot more now about how the inner east side needs to develop,” says Malsin, who took over the project after the original developer selected by the PDC bailed out when the economy tanked.

Today, more than 15 years after the PDC began purchasing the blocks for more than $11 million, construction is finally underway on the first two new buildings on the 4-acre site. Heavy equipment has reconfigured the landscape on two of the blocks. A tall construction crane hovers over one of them, where the concrete foundation is being framed.

The current work follows the renovation of a former Sears warehouse on the site into the Eastside Exchange, a four-story building with flexible workspaces for design, tech and light manufacturing firms. That project was undertaken by Beam Development over the past few years. It is now fully occupied.

Photo Credit: TRIBUNE PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Beam Development property manager Joe van Waardenburg stands atop the Eastside Exchange and looks at the construction underway in the Burnside BridgeheadThe two buildings now under construction — one to the east and the other to the south of the Eastside Exchange — are both apartment buildings with retail. A new office building is being planned for another block.

The mix of buildings is similar to what Malsin first proposed to the Portland Development Commission in 2004. At the time, Malsin was the underdog in a competition between two much larger companies to redevelop the property.

One was Opus Northwest, the local arm of a large development company with many successful projects. The other was Gerding/Edlen, a local company with a growing number of projects around the world. Both included a big-box store as the anchor tenant.

In contrast, Malsin had mostly only redeveloped a local warehouse into the Eastbank Commerce Center, an office building and restaurant space at 1001 S.E. Water Ave. His proposal envisioned local businesses as the retail component.

Malsin had a lot of support among neighborhood and business leaders in the inner east side. They thought the smaller scale of his project was more compatible with the surrounding area, and they also feared a big-box store would increase congestion and drive nearby small businesses under.

After months of hearings, the PDC chose Opus, however, in part because the company said it had enough money in the bank to guarantee the project. But when the recession hit, Opus withdrew and the project foundered for years.

The PDC eventually approached Malsin in 2008 to see if he was willing to take over the project. At the time, the PDC wanted to tear down the Sears warehouse, which had been remodeled into the Convention Plaza office building. Malsin agreed to craft a framework plan for the blocks and eventually decided the former warehouse was worth saving. By then Malsin was well on his way toward redeveloping a former grain mill into the Olympic Mills Commerce Center at 107 S.E. Washington St.

“Originally, I wanted to tear the Convention Plaza down to create parking I thought the (Burnside Bridgehead) project needed. But over the years, I learned the people who want to work in the district support bikes and transit. That made saving the building viable, and it was the key to the new project,” Malsin says.

Much has changed over the past 10 or so years. Back then, the city council thought a big-box store was necessary to revitalize the neighborhood by attracting suburban shoppers. Now the inner east side already is one of the fastest growing parts of the city. Several new apartment buildings have been built in the area. Under construction is the massive Hassalo on Eight residential development to the north, and a large apartment building is planned on the so-called Goat Blocks to the east.

The two new buildings underway at the Burnside Bridgehead are a 21-story Skylab Architecture-designed apartment building and a 10-story mixed-use project by Beam Development, Urban Development + Partners, and Works Partnership Architecture. Currently being considered is an office building planned by Guerrilla Development called The Dumbbell because of its design.

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