Today the Portland Development Commission announced the three firms selected as finalists for the Centennial Mills project: The Cordish Company of Baltimore, The Lab LLC of Costa Mesa, California and Nitze-Stagen of Seattle. Each will be paid $40,000 to respond to PDC's official request for proposal (RFP), which will require a detailed plan and presentation for the 4.5-acre waterfront site.
Before these finalists begin in earnest, what words of advice and hope can we give them?
I wish I knew more about why these three firms were selected. Hopefully it's not overly based on their financial capability, as may have been the case with the Burnside Bridgehead project - at least come selection time. But I don't see PDC as the problem or even necessarily the focus here. Rather, I think now is the time the developers need to hear from Portland about what we want and don't want at Centennial Mill (not actually pictured here - I didn't have any good CM shots so I chose one from Twin Peaks).
Since they're all out-of-towners, it seems these firms need to go the extra mile to reach out to the community and get their input. How about these developers coming to town and running some kind of charrette or town meeting?
Also, if these firms have the resources to handle such a potentially big, important project, that likely means they're pretty big. I hope that doesn't mean they'll be making the choice large developers often seem to make: tame architecture by huge service firms. That's a stereotype, of course, but still tethered to reality, I'd say. Whether they come from Portland or out of town, I hope these three developers have the courage to seek out talented people to work with, and not just the people they've worked with before, or the people who have the longest track record with similar projects. Amaze us!
It should go without saying that historic preservation and sustainability should be keywords here. But I don't think that's enough. I hope developers aren't afraid to contrast the historic mill buildings with some contemporary architecture. It's important to fit in, but that doesn't mean neo-historic new buildings alongside the old ones.
And then there's the question of exactly what recipe of retail, housing, and/or other services belong there. It has to be mixed-use, but are the developers gonna bring in chains or local stores? What'll they do or not do about the police department's horse paddock next door - does any of these three developers have the gumption to go the extra mile and suggest a plan for annexing the horsey barn space down the road?
I don't mean to just re-hash the conversation we've already had a few months ago about the Centennial Mills site, but it really strikes me that this is one of our last real chances to tell both the client, PDC, and especially the developer-finalists, what we want to see in Centennial Mill. Complaining after the fact is a much more difficult way to affect change than preventing things in the first place. We have to speak up now, or be forced to hold our peace once the blueprints are confirmed.