BY BRIAN LIBBY
Last month the Zidell family and its ZRZ Realty Company unveiled a new master plan for their 33 acres in South Waterfront known as the Zidell Yards, between the Portland Aerial Tram, Tilikum Crossing, the Willamette River and Moody Avenue. Most notably, the master plan gives us a vision for the former Zidell Marine Company barge-building facility beside the tram. All told, this acreage is the missing link between the portions of South Waterfront developed in the last decade and the Riverplace area just to the north. When completed sometime in the 2020s, there will be a continuous strip of cityscape along the west side of the Willamette River.
To learn more about the master plan, recently I sat down for a talk with Thomas Henneberry, the company's new chief executive officer.
Henneberry has been on the job since May, but has been consulting for about a year. In crafting the master plan, he said the focus has been "on solidifying the vision and creating a master plan. It’s more than just buildings. It’s really trying to create a vision. There’s infrastructure, vehicular circulation, all these kinds of things that go into the ground. But it’s also the creation of a neighborhood and a lifestyle. The Zidell family has been here for over 80 years and showed everybody they’re a long-term holder of real estate and want to develop it into a special neighborhood. What has been lacking to date has been that access to the river, so what we have done with this plan is not just create streets and blocks but an opportunity to engage with the water. It’s living here, working here, having recreation and having access to the river."
The most exciting aspect of the plan is precisely the river access that Henneberry mentioned. Ever since the Zidells first announced that their land would be redeveloped, there has been talk of providing river access in a more hands-on way than what we get at Tom McCall Waterfront Park: a chance to literally get down to the water. The new plan envisions using the old slipway from the barge-building facility as the path down to the water, with a dock extending outward to the river and even a pool. The Zidell Marine Company's signature gantry crane will also be moved slightly in order to be in parallel with the slipway, as a kind of gateway to the river recalling the long architectural tradition of triumphal arches.
"We think the waterfront access at the slipway makes sense," Henneberry explained. "It’s about the opportunity we have with the city to activate that waterfront. We’d like to activate it with outdoor restaurants and cafés adjacent to the greenway. Different groups want art, want bicycle paths, want access to the water. So it has to be a neighborhood."
Adjacent to the slipway leading to the river, ZRZ also hopes to save and renovate its massive barge-building terminal. I think it would be an interesting location for the James Beard Public Market, although it seems to be headed across the river to OMSI's property. Even so, there could be any number of adaptive re-uses for this gargantuan industrial facility. And keeping it would give South Waterfront something it very much needs: a touch of the old to go with all those shiny new towers.
"We would love to save and re-use the barge building, whether it’s office or retail or maker space," Henneberry said. We’ve chatted about a lot of options. The important part is just to save that building and re-use it. What got us to focus the vision was the adaptive re-use. The barge business going away helped us to coalesce and understand all the opportunities.
The new master plan also identifies a reconfiguration of streets as one-way. "Moody today is a two-way street. As you go past the Zidell property…the plan is for Bond to be one-way northbound, and Moody to end up being a one-way southbound street," Henneberry explained. "These will work as a couplet. SW River Parkway stops at our property line. How do we get it through Zidell? We arrived at this configuration of coming to the property, going east, and then shifting north through the barge building, going through and under the Ross Island Bridge, and then circle and reconnect."
Henneberry also explained how the street grid will lay out and how a new promenade will be created. "Clearly Portland is about their traditional Portland grid, the 200-by-200-foot blocks. The central district of South Waterfront repeated that grid, but over here the river turns, [and] Moody is already placed," he said. "OHSU created larger parcels here where Bond shifts. So we kind of mirrored that, trying to pick up on their promenade. That promenade will come across Tilikum and become part of Bond street. That’s where we’re trying to focus retail, and make that Bond connection with OHSU and with the base of the tram. Today everybody walks down Moody and there’s nothing on the west side except the Emery. You don’t get that feel of walking down a retail street."
Related to the couplet, Henneberry also commented on the intended effort to make Bond, which will sit along the waterfront greenway, a retail-focused street, and how the city sometimes lacks such concentrations. "It’s a mistake planners have made all over the country: forcing developers to do mixed use retail instead of concentrating it," he said. "You want to go where there’s vitality on the sidewalk. We’re trying to do that on Bond and take people down to the river."
The amount of open space in the Zidell Yards is generous. Besides the slipway access to the river and the dock there, the land underneath the Ross Island Bridge will be a kind of park, and there is a large triangle open greenery a block to the north leading to the river. If there is one disappointment for me, it is that the greenspace underneath the bridge will not be larger. I've always envisioned it as a kind of Cathedral Park (the park underneath the St. Johns Bridge) for South Waterfront. That said, it makes sense to lead people more to the slipway as the large signature open space.
There also seems to be an opportunity here for a variety of architecture firms to get involved. "When you control an opportunity this large, you have an opportunity to bring several architectural firms to our location," Henneberry said. "We’re doing multiple buildings with multiple uses. We want to invite many firms to look at the opportunity and over the cycle get people’s fresh eyes. In DC I had a rule I didn’t want to repeat an architecture firm for a while. I want to get fresh eyes."
Henneberry explained that the Zidell Yards will still take many years to roll out, with 13 different parcels on which to build. Construction will begin later this year, with the first phase expected to be completed in 2020. Only as we get into the middle part of the next decade will this neighborhood start to feel complete. Even so, it's exciting to get our first real sense of this major addition to the central city.