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After years of fits and false starts, city efforts to revitalize the hard-scrabble community of Lents may be moving ahead.


The Portland Development Commission will vote Wednesday on funding three redevelopment projects in the heart of Lents’ historic town center — including the pivotal New Copper Penny restaurant, bar and night club site. Combined, the three projects could cost $66 million, with PDC providing financing to get them off the ground.

The urban renewal agency proposes a $1.3 million predevelopment loan and a $5.1 million development loan to Palindrome Communities Inc., led by Chad Rennaker. Rennaker has a purchase agreement to buy the New Copper Penny site on the southeast corner of Foster Road and 92nd Avenue, long considered the lynchpin of efforts to revitalize the commercial heart of Lents. In addition, he has a purchase agreement to buy the Chevron gas station across the street to the west, and would build on PDC’s 1-acre L-shaped site west and south of the gas station.

Rennaker has stated plans to build a $40 million worth of affordable housing, commercial space and parking.

PDC’s second pending project in Lents is smaller but involves some big names in Portland’s development world: Homer Williams and Dike Dame.

The agency proposes to loan Williams/Dame & Associates $1.3 million for predevelopment work, plus a construction loan of up to $4.8 million, and convey the agency’s .6-acre site due north of the Chevron station, on the northwest corner of 92nd and Foster. Williams and Dame propose to build a mix of affordable and market-rate apartments plus ground-floor commercial space and surface parking. That project has a total estimated cost of $15.7 million.

The third project, known as the Asian Health & Services Center, is proposed on .7-acre west of 91st Avenue on the north side of Foster, two blocks west of the Williams and Dame site.

PDC would provide a $786,800 predevelopment loan and a $3.1 million construction loan.

The project, pegged to cost $10.6 million, is envisioned to include medical clinics, office and community meeting space, and two commercial spaces to be rented at market rate.

PDC also has interest from Palindrome and Rose Community Development Corp. in two other PDC-owned properties, after putting out feelers earlier this year.

But the agency is now viewing the three projects as a first phase of redevelopment, says PDC spokesman Shawn Uhlman. The agency could return to those other projects at a later time, he says.

After the first phase is completed, the value of PDC’s considerable other land holdings in Lents could rise, he says, and there’ll be a clearer need of what’s going on in the real estate market there.

Rose is working on a project north of the Williams and Dame site. PDC has asked Rose to refine some of its proposal.

Palindrome has expressed interest in building housing at the 3.5-acre site southwest of 92nd and Harold Street, next to the Wattles Boys and Girls Club.

The sequencing of the first three projects was done because those were more ready to proceed, Uhlman says.

Though Lents’ prospects for development are looking better than they have in years, it’s still hard for projects there to win traditional bank financing, Uhlman says. “PDC is filling a role as a gap financier, a pretty significant one.”

For several years, PDC spent urban renewal fund buying up empty or underutilitized properties, hoping to strike a big deal or “home run.” But Mayor Charlie Hales ordered the agency to shift course after he took office, and pressured PDC to start seeking deals for some of its vacant properties. The new strategy is defined as hitting singles.

Though Lents neighbors hope to lure a large grocery store to the 92nd and Foster area, none of the three projects are discussing grocery stories. It appears the area still doesn’t meet the specifications of most grocery chains.

But redeveloping the New Copper Penny and luring big-name developers like Williams and Dame could wind up being more like doubles or even triples, if not the long-sought home run.

Homer Williams has been involved in numerous high-profile developments in Portland, in the Forest Heights community, Pearl District and South Waterfront, along with Broken Top in Bend and projects in downtown Los Angeles.

Rennaker previously developed the Pints brewpub in Old Town/Chinatown, and is now building the Z Haus brewpub and restaurant in Lents on 92nd Avenue.

Though little-known in Portland, he has been a principal in developing apartments and mixed-use retail projects in New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada and elsewhere. Palindrome presented materials to the PDC showing it has a nearly $600 million portfolio of nearly 7,000 apartment units. Rennaker confirmed he’s the majority owner of the company.

The PDC board meets starting 1 p.m. Wednesday to consider the three deals, along with other items.

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