Chad Rennaker has big plans to transform the Southeast neighborhood

Photo Credit: TRIBUNE PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE  - A developer who once lived in Lents has a purchase agreement for the gritty New Copper Penny restaurant and nightclub. The site on Southeast Foster Road and 92nd Avenue is considered pivotal for the long-sought renaissance of the Lents town center. Can a new brewpub be the ticket to liven up Lents’ moribund town center?

That’s Chad Rennaker’s game plan.

The little-known Portland developer says he’ll start construction this week on the Z Haus brewpub and restaurant on Southeast 92nd Avenue, Lents’ battered traditional “Main Street.”

But that’s just for starters.

Rennaker recently won exclusive rights to negotiate deals on two other parcels on 92nd Avenue owned by the Portland Development Commission in the Lents Town Center Urban Renewal Area. He also has a purchase agreement to buy a fourth parcel on 92nd and Foster Road, the New Copper Penny restaurant and night club that many say is the lynchpin to the long-sought revival of Lents’ retail district.

If he’s successful, Rennaker could spark the kind of changes in Lents that have transformed a string of Portland’s southeast and northeast commercial districts in recent years, bringing the hip Portland cachet east of 82nd Avenue for the first time.

“It feels like the next sort of wave of neighborhoods that will improve,” Rennaker says.

Rennaker has a low profile here despite an impressive real estate portfolio. His main local development is Pints Brewing, a brewpub in Old Town/Chinatown. Most of his real estate development and investment has been apartment complexes and mixed-use retail and housing projects in New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada and other western states.

His company, Palindrome Communities, has an investment portfolio of nearly 7,000 apartment units, which cost nearly $600 million, according to materials submitted to the PDC. Rennaker says he’s majority owner.

“Our general sense is that he has both the financial capacity and the track record of pulling together capital” to take on ambitious plans for Lents, says Patrick Quinton, PDC executive director.

“There’s a personal aspect to this,” Quinton says, because Rennaker and his wife settled for awhile in Lents when they were new to this area. “He thinks this is kind of a turning point for Lents.”

Rennaker, who came to Oregon to attend Oregon State University and decided to move here, says he’s drawn to neighborhoods where he senses if he puts capital in, it will spark redevelopment — especially brewpubs.

“That creates the spark that hopefully leads to other development,” he says.

His Pints brewpub has been a catalyst to improve a sleepy neighborhood in Old Town/Chinatown, Rennaker says. “We did the same thing at a project in Albuquerque, New Mexico.”

He’s also working on a fourth brewpub in Phoenix, Ariz.

He figures brewpubs also helped turn around Portland’s North Mississippi Avenue and Russell Street.

Initially, Rennaker proposed to the PDC that he become the “master developer” of 92nd Avenue, where the commission has a string of properties available for redevelopment. The PDC declined, granting rights to three other development teams: Homer Williams and Dike Dame; ROSE Community Development Corp.; and Reach Community Development Corp. and the Asian Health & Services Center. But the PDC did award Palindrome rights to negotiate deals, and potential urban renewal subsidies, on two properties.

Combined, the agency has $20 million available in potential development assistance in the area, on top of the value of the land that it owns in the parcels, Quinton says.

The biggest of the Palindrome sites is 3.5 acres of fields south of the Wattles Boys and Girls Club, off Harold Street between 92nd Avenue and Interstate 205. Preliminary plans call for roughly 160 apartment units there, Rennaker says.

He also envisions a public plaza covered by glass on an empty lot between the Z Haus brewpub and the Harold Street apartments. He’d like to move the Lents International Farmers Market there, as well as use it for a multimedia performance venue, including a screen to show movies outdoors.

The PDC had tried to buy the New Copper Penny site months ago but couldn’t pay the steep price demanded by the owners, which was higher than the appraised value.

Rennaker confirmed he has a purchase agreement to buy the site, at a price higher than the PDC could pay. But he figures it will have higher value because of the other improvements he and others can make in the vicinity, including a second PDC property across the street to the west.

In his pitch to the PDC to be the master developer, Rennaker wrote of attracting a grocery store to the New Copper Penny site, something long prized by Lents neighborhood activists and leaders.

But now Rennaker says that might not be feasible. “That’s a tough one to get there,” he says, given the tough competition in the area.

Other grocers on the western edge of Lents include a relatively new Walmart grocery on 82nd and Holgate, the Fred Meyer on 82nd and Foster and the expected new Winco on 82nd and Powell. All attract the kind of blue-collar shoppers that predominate in Lents.

Though it’s early in the process, Rennaker is figuring Palindrome could build three to four stories of apartments, or 60 to 80 units at the Copper Penny site, above ground-floor retail and commercial space.

If he can make that work, he’d like to build more commercial on the second PDC site across the street, on the southwest corner of 92nd and Foster. “That’s kind of predicated on the Copper Penny site,” he says.

Nick Christensen, former chairman of the Lents Neighborhood Association, was surprised that Rennaker is backing away from pursuit of a grocery store at the New Copper Penny site. “A grocery store is an important part of a healthy neighborhood core,” Christensen says. “If we want Lents to have a pedestrian-friendly environment on Main Street, I think a grocery is going to be an important part of that.”

But the PDC had similar frustrations trying to lure a grocery store to Lents, so Rennaker’s comments didn’t come as a surprise to Quinton.

The agency was surprised, though, after working with Rennaker two years on the Z Haus project, that he’d step up this way for other developments in Lents.

“We’re excited to be working with someone who wants to make this big of a difference in the Town Center,” Quinton says.

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