As reported in Tuesday's Portland Tribune, a realignment of downtown urban renewal districts may be in the works that could have a few significant effects. The plans are being drafted by a Portland Development Commission advisory committee.
This is also tied, I believe, to a drafted wish list for about $53 million in federal funds for eight projects from Congress as part of the "2008 Federal Agenda" that Andy Dworkin reported in The Oregonian a couple weeks ago.
One idea being considered is to River District to include up to 61 acres in Old Town/Chinatown area to go with the existing Pearl District portions. This would also guarantee millions of property tax dollars to help redevelop the main U.S. Post Office site. It's something that has been talked about for a long time, and I've long felt this property seemed like a sleeping giant.
What's more, I hope some of the existing post office building could be incorporated into a new structure. It's somewhat shabby now as a post office -- I really have to struggle to think of a post office that isn't shabby in one way or another -- but there are aspects of its mid-century modern design that are very handsome. If it could be done, I'd love to see a kind of hybrid of old and new architecture there. Why not make this a home for a public market, but a lot more as well? Then again, how about a new concert hall for the Oregon Symphony? Or a new contemporary art center? Even just a well executed mixed use project with housing or offices above retail would possibly suffice. If PDC were handling the allocation of that work, though, I'd like to see a revamping of the process to better empower great design as a priority, and not just something that meets livability and sustainability parameters. It doesn't have to be fancy, just good.
Another project included in the advisory committee plans, says the Tribune article, is a possible streetcar line for West Burnside. This, of course, is additionally tied to a re-routing of Burnside and Couch as one-way streets between I-405 to the West and 12th Street to the east.
Plenty of reasonable and intelligent people think this is a good idea, the couplet (pictured at left and below). There's an argument out there that it would foster development and more efficiently move traffic. Maybe so. But I'm still skeptical. As I've said, it seems like a suburban solution, meant more to move cars than to be good urbanism. I think it'd make an island of blocks between Burnside and Couch like that between Northeast Broadway and Weidler, and between Grand and MLK. Perhaps it's warranted in those cases, but Burnside, I think, is different. It's the only street in the city touching SW, SE, NE and NW -- both literally and symbolically a unifying street. I think it needs to be two-way.
It also seems like the City Council is supporting this idea largely because of the attached streetcar proposal. Regardless, I also don't see how you can make such a major rupture to the traffic pattern on and around Burnside without looking at it in relation to the whole central city.
But, if you have a cool new post office project on Broadway, across from a renovated Union Station with a MAX train going by, a renovated 511 Broadway building occupied by PNCA, the Customs House remade as a boutique hotel (or its developers conceding interest to some type of arts program), and maybe even a completed Burnside Bridge construction project, and that sounds like an exciting transformation.
Hopefully it won't get lost in the mail like the last "Priority" package I sent to my sister.