BY FRED LEESON
If the new Grant Park Village proves to be a smash hit on Broadway, we can call it “Car Wars.” Should it prove to be a little less slam/bang, then a title like “Food Fight” will do.
The food fight and the accompanying car wars began November 12, when the New Seasons grocery chain opened a 34,500-square foot store in first floor of the four-story, 600-foot long “village” nearing completion at the busy intersection of Northeast 33rd Avenue and Broadway.
The $60 million project, built by Capstone Partners LLC, fills a sloping, long-vacant site that housed the Albina Fuel Company and a couple smaller businesses that formerly nestled between Broadway, Interstate 84 and Northeast 32nd Avenue. Now, the first phase of the long, narrow “village” will comprise 211 apartments and about 47,000 square feet of retail space, sitting on a concrete pedestal covering 269 parking spaces.
Finding a new use for the Albina Fuel site took more than a decade. An earlier proposal calling for condominiums died in the recession. The elaborate planning process for the village eventually won grudging approval from the nearby Grant Park and Sullivan’s Gulch neighborhoods, though the neighbors continued to express concerns about traffic problems.
Indeed, automobile flow may be daunting. Most motorists hoping to park under the New Seasons will have to turn from Broadway to one block on 32nd, and then turn briefly on to Northeast Weidler to enter the covered parking. Some drivers may be tempted, instead, to walk a couple hundred feet from the nearby Fred Meyer Hollywood parking lot, but we’ll get to that issue in a moment.
To accommodate vehicular turns on and off Broadway, the city has installed a new signal at 32nd. It will be the fourth signalized intersection between 28th and 33rd, with lights now at 33rd, 32nd, 30th and 28th. City traffic engineers originally were reluctant to add the new signal, but Capstone evidently provided evidence to change their minds. It remains to be seen how reality of the traffic flow fits with the gauntlet of lights.
Grant Park village was designed by LRS Architects of Portland, with assistance from Seattle’s Runberg Architecture Group. The designers took cues from nearby industrial-style buildings – notably the Gordon’s Fireplace building just across 33rd Avenue, and a former large factory that is now houses storage units near I-84 and Northeast 28th Avenue.
The first phase of the village consists of three buildings of similar size and appearance sitting on the concrete pedestal. One might hope that someday the three could be more differentiated visually with a more vibrant color scheme. But not to worry; paint is comparatively cheap. Long-range plans could see the addition of more housing units in two buildings at the rear of the five-acre site. The first phase includes a pleasant gathering space for residents on the backside of the three buildings and a walking path that someday could become part of a longer pedestrian/bicycle route in the freeway gulch.
The agreement by New Seasons to take the primary retail space puts three major food stores within a few hundred feet of one another. Fred Meyer Hollywood is almost check-to-jowl to the southwest, and QFC (also part of the Kroger/Fred Meyer empire) is just a couple short blocks to the north. It must be frustrating for Portland neighborhoods that cannot land a major food retailer to see three so close; no doubt demographics – closely studied by the big food chains – are to blame.
Fred Meyer Inc. is not taking the new competition lightly. Top officials have been meeting with Hollywood employees, and some of the employees tried – unsuccessfully, in some cases – to scout out the new competitor before it opened. No doubt concerned by potential abuse of its own parking, Fred Meyer Inc. has contracted with a parking patrol company to monitor Meyer’s eastern lot closest to New Seasons. Signs have been posted telling customers that they may park for no more than two hours, during which time they are not supposed to leave the Fred Meyer premises. The penalty is a $39 fine.
If Fred Meyer himself were still alive, it is probable that he would fight New Seasons with all the competitive aggression he could muster. And that likely would be in the form of price wars. Meyer, who cut his retailing teeth in the old public markets along Southwest Yamhill Street in the 1920s and 30s, once told an associate, “If I walk down Yamhill Street and my competitors aren’t saying, ‘There goes Fred Meyer, that son of a bitch,’ my prices aren’t hot enough.”
In a much bigger, fancier way, perhaps Grant Park Village is the start of a new Yamhill Street.
Fred Leeson is a Portland journalist and author of “My-Te-Fine Merchant: Fred Meyer’s Retail Revolution.”