The Great Recession may have caused construction in the Portland area to dry up seemingly overnight, but once the economy rebounded, the industry bounced back with a vengeance — with activity holding strong for the better part of the past decade.
From 2013 to 2014, the Portland metro area's population grew by 35,000 people, reaching 2.35 million — with about 50% of those new residents coming from outside Oregon — and then continued to climb, according to U.S. Census data. That increase combined with a shortage of apartments sent rents upward. Developers responded with a flurry of multifamily activity, focused mainly in Portland.
Following closely behind was a swell of hotel activity and tower construction that brought high-rise mixes of retail and office. While most of those projects initially were focused in the city's central downtown business district, the latter part of the decade saw activity in the Central Eastside Industrial area and the Lloyd District. Projects in those areas included Skylab Architecture's controversial Yard mixed-use building, Guerrilla Development's colorful Fair-Haired Dumbbell office building and a hotel large enough to support Oregon Convention Center events.
Some of the city's new construction came at a cost, according to historic preservationists. Developers often determined it was more affordable to build new than to invest in the costly seismic upgrades necessary to repurpose iconic and landmark buildings such as the Ancient Order of United Workmen's Temple at Southwest Second Avenue and Taylor Street.
There was one part of the construction industry that didn't rebound with the economy: At the depth of the Great Recession, 43% of the state's construction workers were unemployed. Many found work in other industries. As a result, when the building boom hit, construction companies found themselves scrambling to fill positions. Efforts to recruit and retain more women and minorities to the trades helped fill some of those gaps. Portland-area construction companies also got creative, tapping lean construction models and getting subcontractors involved in projects at the design and planning stages to ensure their buy-in down the road.
Construction companies in the Portland metro area say they've seen work slow down slightly during the past year and expect another small dip in 2020. But overall, they're are cautiously optimistic as they head into a new decade — at least for another year or two.
While hotel activity has slowed, there are projects still under way, including BPM Real Estate Group's 35-story, five-star Ritz-Carlton project rising on the site of the former Alder Street Food Cart pod. Meanwhile, the flurry of multifamily projects that flooded Portland with units has slowed to a trickle since the city put in place inclusionary housing requirements that call for projects with 20 or more units to set aside a portion for affordable housing. Developers, however, aren't giving up on multifamily housing and have instead shifted their efforts to suburban areas such as Beaverton and Hillsboro.
School construction bonds passed by voters in recent years in almost every Portland-area school district are expected to keep some contractors and their crews busy for the next couple of years. And a statewide, $5.3 billion, 10-year transportation bill has started to spin out projects that are expected to continue through most the next decade.
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