New plan for Washington Square features housing at the mall
Washington Square was built in the early 1970s as a typical American shopping mall, anchored by department stores, featuring popular restaurants and shops.
Times have changed — even since 2005, when the last major addition to the mall was built — and now planners and investors are looking at a very different vision for what has long been one of Tigard's biggest draws.
Stores like Mervyn's and Sears that once drew crowds of shoppers have closed. And as that era of Washington Square fades into memory, the leading vision is not to replace them with more big-box stores, but rather to address perhaps the region's most pressing need: housing.
Future housing in the Washington Square area will consist of high-density dwellings with mixed-use developments. It will also embrace those seeking lower-cost housing and commercial space.
The vision for a more modern Washington Square is outlined in a revised plan approved by the Tigard City Council late last year, plotting out the future of what planners call the "Washington Square Regional Center."
To spur more unique development in the area, the plan also calls for allowing housing on top of ground-floor retail both in the Washington Square mall area as well as on the west side of Highway 217, along Southwest Cascade Avenue and beyond.
The regional center's boundaries not only include the mall and surrounding area, but also commercial and residential land in Tigard on both sides of Highway 217, as well as the southeastern edge of Beaverton and a slice of unincorporated Washington County. In all, the center encompasses about 1,000 acres.
Building-wise, the planning documents show that officials don't believe that tall office buildings — à la the 12-story Lincoln Tower, the tallest building in Washington County — are a likely or practical alternative, given the current market. Instead, planners are pushing for more flexible mixed-use development that includes multifamily housing and retail space, along the lines of Hillsboro's Orenco Station and Wilsonville's Villabois districts.
Although markets and demands have changed in the area, the regional center plan has not been updated since 1999.
"However, many things have changed since the development of the original plan," notes a staff overview of the Washington Square Regional Center plan. "Online shopping has disrupted the retail sector, and technological innovations are changing the way people travel and work. Equity has become a higher priority for the city, and housing and climate issues have become more severe."
At the mall itself, the second phase of a redevelopment of the Sears building — the department store closed in 2019 — and adjoining property could contain standalone housing as well as buildings with commercial space on the ground floor and housing above, according to city officials. The Sears store has been closed since 2019.
A spokesperson for Macerich, the real estate investment trust that owns the mall, said the company has nothing to report for now regarding specific plans for the site.
While past land-use approval allows the company to redevelop the site, no permits have been pulled, Tigard officials have said. Previous plans have included talk about building such amenities as a theater, hotel or smaller restaurants at that location on that site, which includes not only the main Sears store but property formerly occupied by the Sears Auto Center, which is now occupied by Uncle Dan's Tire World.
Regarding a push for a more diverse housing in the area, Washington County Housing Authority and Related Northwest recently announced the creation of a public-private partnership to build a $53.6 million twin four-story affordable housing development in the adjacent Metzger area. Terrace Glen Apartments, which will offer housing and an "intergenerational" design for low- and very low-income families and seniors, is slated for completion in June 2023.
While several Highway 217 crossings have been proposed over the years at different locations, only one made it into the amended regional center document approved in December. That calls for a pedestrian/bike bridge across Highway 217 at Southwest 95th Avenue, according to Lauren Scott.
"The two auto bridges and remaining ped/bike bridge from the original (1999) plan did not make it into the final updated plan," said Lauren Scott, Tigard's community engagement coordinator.
Highway 217 itself is now a construction zone between Southwest Scholls Ferry Road and Beaverton-Hillsdale Highway. The Oregon Department of Transportation began work late last year on expanding the freeway and improving access to and between surface streets. That construction is expected to continue into 2025.
The landscape west of Highway 217 is expected to change as well.
Last summer, Tigard amended its municipal code to allow auto sales along Cascade Avenue. Since then, two applications have been submitted from high-end auto dealers who want to locate there.
Holman BMW dealership has plans to move into the former Orchard Supply Hardware, while electric vehicle manufacturer Tesla wants to take over the adjacent Toys R Us store. Both stores have been closed for about four years.
"Holman BMW will be demolishing the existing Orchard building, and Tesla will be retrofitting the existing Toys building and possibly adding another, smaller building to the site," Scott said.
The applications for those auto retailers are in the process of being reviewed and neither requires a public hearing before construction can begin, she said.
While all this is happening, Tigard has also been in talks with Washington County after requesting a jurisdictional transfer of Southwest Greenburg Road, which creates a border for Washington Square Mall on its east side. Scott said Washington County is open to the transfer.
"The city is currently looking for external funding options (grants, programs) to pay for improvements of the road which is a vital connection between the commercial and residential areas of the regional center," she said.
Tigard city officials have also expressed a desire to take over jurisdiction of Southwest Hall Boulevard, which runs past the Washington Square area, from the state Department of Transportation. Currently, Hall Boulevard is officially a state route, Highway 141, although no highway signs are posted.
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.