In the last several days, various newspaper reports I've read have indicated a handful of Portland's biggest developers may have projects either in the works or will do so soon.
John Carroll, a pioneering Pearl District condo developer who previously was responsible for The Gregory, the Chown Pella Lofts and The Elizabeth in that neighborhood as well as The Eliot downtown, reportedly has proposed to the City to replace its downtown garage at SW 10th Avenue and Yamhill Street (right near Central Library and between two MAX stops) with 25 stories or more.
Gerding Edlen, developers of the Brewery Blocks and various South Waterfront properties (with Williams + Dame) as well as a handful of condos in downtown Los Angeles, recently sold three of the buildings for about $291 million. That could go a long way toward investing in more condos.
And the Naito family, holders of numerous properties in Old Town and elsewhere, seems to have ironed out its long-running family feud, at least enough to start developing some of their properties. According to yesterday's Oregonian, first up could be a new headquarters for Ankrom Moisan Associated Architects.
I probably don't know any more than you about what these developers have up their sleeve. But instead of waiting to comment on what they unveil however many months down the road, I'd like to encourage anyone to give these developers some unsolicited advice.
These are business people first, and architectural patrons second. That's not a criticism, just a reality. If I had millions of dollars at stake on a business venture, the money would be my biggest concern too.
However, we Portlanders are going to spend probably the rest of our lives looking at the buildings these developers may be talking about right now. What do we want out of them? It's not enough to say good design - that means different things to different people. How do they get there without taking business risks they're unlikely to commit to?
Looking at Carroll, Gerding Edlen and the Naitos, there is a strong previous history of working with two firms: GBD Architects and Ankrom Moisan. Obviously the developers have established a long record of experience, communication and trust with these firms. Can't argue with that. What's more, GBD and Gerding in particular produce buildings with high LEED ratings routinely. (Zimmer Gunsul Frasca and SERA also increasingly seem to have wedged themselves into the condo game, including possibly another condo in Northwest coming soon for SERA near their previous one, The Civic.)
At the same time, it's not healthy for a city or even a neighborhood to have building after building by the same architect, even if within these familiar firms there are countless individuals coming and going and working on different projects.
In some cases, service firms like these pair with smaller but esteemed design firms like Thomas Hacker (with GBD and Gerding for a South Waterfront condo) and Holst (with Ankrom and another developer for the 937 condos in the Pearl). But this probably isn't a perfect arrangement either, giving the exterior skin to one group and the insides to anther - not very holistic, ya know?
Anticipating a project is also way more than what architect gets selected. What else can we say to these developers about executing good design?
With Carroll, for example, I've heard (and made) accusations in the past of bowling-lane-shaped units and neo-historic stylistic moves that are wildly popular with some and lack integrity to others. The guy has a right to make a profit and work with whomever he wants. But is there anything more he should know or do?
The Naitos are more of an open question. I associate them more with existing buildings like The Galleria and various Old Town properties. Who out there can prognosticate what we might see from this developer on new projects?
Of course you also have Hoyt Street Properties, which worked with Ankrom a lot in the past but now has its second project in a row happening with BOORA, The Encore, after first building the soon-to-open Metropolitan. Hoyt Street is on its way to carving out the northern edge of the Pearl where the Fremont Bridge and Naito Parkway intersect. Will it be BOORA-ville? And if so, is that OK, or is too booring?
Some of you are probably yawning at the mere mention once again of Pearl and South Waterfront condos. These two neighborhoods take up a hugely disproportionate amount of discussion, but understandably so because that's where tall buildings are quickly making up the skyline. And how do we feel about that skyline so far? Unsurprisingly, I find myself pretty happy at street level, but pretty ambivalent seeing these towers from a distance.