BY BRIAN LIBBY
It's been a long dark winter since the sun set on the economic boom of the 2000s, when construction cranes dotted the central city landscape. For the past three years, modest renovations and public building projects have helped architecture and construction firms to get by, but in many cases just that.
But now there may be reason for at least some modest, guarded optimism. According to the American Institute of Architects' billing index, billings at US architecture firms in November, recorded their strongest monthly gain since the end of 2010. Inquiries for new projects also increased sharply.
Meanwhile locally, according to Portland State University's Center for Real Estate, sales from multifamily transactions "are on track this year to approach the pre-recessionary levels of approximately $800 million per year – a substantial uptick from the $525 million banked in 2010, and a huge increase from the $282 million recorded in 2009," reports the Daily Journal of Commerce's Lee Fehrenbacher.
Granted, the condo market that once provided the foundation for a robust economy is still yet to catch up. Freddie Mac reports that American households lost nearly $400 billion in property value during the first nine months of the 2011. But numerous apartment projects are underway, and even a few condos.
The Janey, for example, is currently under construction in the Pearl District. A six-story mixed-use project in the Pearl formerly known as the West Bearing Apartments, it is designed by GBD Architects and consists of 50 apartment units over 2,600 square feet of ground floor retail space.
In the Sellwood/Moreland neighborhood, a 20-unit townhome project called Claybourne Commons is in the works, pending city approval. As reported by the Daily Journal of Commerce's Angela Webber reports, the plan calls for splitting the land into 20 lots, each with a 1,400-square-foot, two bedroom condo. Design is by Vallaster Corl Architects, the firm behind successful mixed use projects such as The Jefferson in downtown Portland and The Hawthorne in Southeast.
But the Claybourne Commons developers have also perhaps earned the ire of local music fans. They own the former funeral home next door to the Claybourne Commons site that was until recently home to The Woods, a popular indie music venue. But now The Woods has been forced to close its doors. A rent increase seemed to be the reason, but the owners told the DJC it was not such an increase that did the venue in but simply paying the existing rent. Yet the owners also have plans to renovate the buiding into office space, which would alter significantly the circa-1928 building.
The DJC's Lindsey O'Brien also reports on construction of the $26 million, 155-unit mixed-use Prescott Apartments, which is set to begin in March, at North Interstate and Skidmore. Designed by Myhre Group, the C-shaped building will have 9,500 square feet of ground-floor retail space and underground parking for 111 vehicles. The Prescott will be six stories on its tallest side, facing Interstate Avenue.
Taken individually, none of these projects may represent a turnaround from the downturn. But like a dripping faucet that becomes a full-pressure stream, with a little luck these and other buidings on the boards or under construction may give us hope that the banks will start lending again, that the job market will give more people the resources to rent and buy homes. Make no mistake: no one is looking for the boom of the 2000s to return. Even if it could, we may not want it to, for rampant speculation is what helped ruin the economy. If a sustainable flow of demand and supply were to return, though, that would be cause for enough ribbon cuttings to make a bow.