It's really a shame: the 511 Building on Northwest Broadway, ideally situated just a few blocks north of Downtown between the Pearl District and Old Town, has undergone a tug of war between two very worthy candidates.
First the Portland Public Market somewhat abruptly went for the striking Italian Renaissance structure, abandoning its previous plan to target Union Station. (I never could completely wrap my head around the idea of a public market in a train station anyway.) The Pacific Northwest College of Art then eyed 511 for its rapidly expanding school. When the Portland Development Commission held the reins, it looked like the market might have an inside track. But PNCA smartly targeted the federal government, which owns the building, and now might not only get the building but get it for free - and a renovation by Brad Cloepfil and Allied Works to boot.
The circa-1918 building does indeed seem well suited for both parties. PNCA would be several blocks from its existing building, which doesn't make for much of a campus. But the school only rents its current home, so PNCA could eventually give that one up. (That'd be a shame, by the way. I love the big warehouse they occupy.) The market only would have needed the ground floor, and in their proposal for 511 it looks as though housing would have gone above.
Which begs the question: is there any way a public market could go on the ground floor of 511 and have PNCA classes above?
There are actually two similar buildings anticipating future uses and tenants on this stretch of NW Broadway, the other of course being the US Customs House just down the street and its comparable French Renaissance/Italian Revival style. It was built in 1901 and expanded in 1938.
A couple years ago the General Services Administration decided to give up the Customs House, and the University of Oregon had its sights on the place. But the GSA favored a hotel developer over the UO, which seemed very uncool then and does today in my mind. Meanwhile, the developer hasn't moved any closer to putting a hotel on the property. Why not let the market occupy the ground floor of that building? I'd guess that many visitors to a potential hotel there would find a big market underneath an added attraction.
This stretch of NW Broadway, moving from Burnside Street north to the Broadway Bridge past Union Station and the post office, has long been under-utilized. It's not to say there are lots of vacancies here; you have various dance clubs, restaurant suppliers, and various other modest small businesses. But it seems like there could be so much more "On Broadway", as the George Benson song goes. Perhaps the greatest symbol here is the boarded-up Burger King at the corner of Broadway and Burnside, seemingly one of the more important intersections in the city but largely wasted. Even if the Burger King were still churning out Whoppers it'd be a shame to have a single-story fast food restaurant here.
One can only assume that if Portland continues developing its central city at roughly the same pace it has over the last 20 years (or even slower for that matter), NW Broadway will ultimately be transformed into a grander avenue befitting its location. A revitalized Union Station, a hotel, condos, an art school, and a public market are just some of the possibilities. Can we make it all fit? I bet those PNCA kids would enjoy shopping at the market, as would future high-speed rail passengers at Union Station.
And while we're at it, an even bigger property -- the post office across from Union Station -- could very well change over and be redeveloped. It could be another Brewery Blocks, or if we screw up, another Burnside Bridgehead.
Today NW Broadway seems almost like a sink hole that you hop over when moving between the Pearl and Old Town or Downtown. I hope that PNCA and the public market people aren't just stuck in a game of musical chairs, but can both occupy a place on this encouragingly transforming street.