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I'm absolutely certain the South Waterfront will be a really great neighborhood one day, but that day is a long way down the road. A decade or more, probably. Right now, and for the next few years at least, it's going to be a bunch of impressive condo towers stuck in the middle of ... nothing. No shops, no restaurants, no attractions, no public transit, no convenient way in or out, no amenities of any sort. So give those early condo buyers a lot of credit for having vision and putting their money behind it. They're certainly going to have to put up with a lot of construction hassles for many years to come, and I hope it pays off for them.

Whenever I go to the South Waterfront I think there's one small niche of people for whom living there makes a lot of sense: OHSU employees. So the biggest surprise in the WW article was the news that, of the 530 condos sold so far, only 5 were bought by people associated with OHSU. Five! That's less than 1 percent!

As for the WW article itself, it struck me as typical of what WW does. The paper seems to feel the need to find a scandal of the week to cover, and the subjects it chooses usually turn out to be not so scandalous in the end.


"Right now, and for the next few years at least, it's going to be a bunch of impressive condo towers stuck in the middle of ... nothing. No shops, no restaurants, no attractions, no public transit, no convenient way in or out, no amenities of any sort."

I strongly disagree with that. While it will take a decade or more for the full vision of the South Waterfront to play out, there will be mass transit with the streetcar tracks already being extended through the district, the Aerial Tram: Portland's most innovative form of mass transportation, and I'm sure they will probably route a bus line through the area as well.

As for restaurants, Bella Coffee, or something to that effect is already under construction. The Daily Cafe at the Tram is being built. Prometheus's Block 46, with three buildings, looks like it will have a roof-top restaurant on their 7 story building, and each tower has retail built in. Along with the Spaghetti Company, I think there will be ample dining and retail options.

Take a look at the walkway between Atwater and Meriwether, no cars! No cars producing pedestrian streets, along with the plazas included in each new building proposal, will be an excellent set up for retailers to thrive.


You forgot to mention in the article that the city turned down Schnitzer's attempt at development. Why did they get turned down if this is in the name of urban development?

Furthermore, if the original goal was biotech, the author contradicts himself when he mentioned that San Diego and other cities were benefiting from biotech. This seems a bit short sighted of PDC and OHSU...

No fingers can be pointed, but when you weigh dollar to doller the scale tips against the public interest...


MarkDaMan: The examples you give of amenities planned for the South Waterfront make my point exactly. They're all good -- but they're all way down the road. Even the Streetcar extension won't happen for another year. That rooftop restaurant is years away from opening. All you have to do is look at the condo and apartment buildings that opened in the last couple of years in the Pearl, with their still-vacant storefronts, to see that residents tend to move into these new developments well before the retailers. Often years before.

Yes, an espresso place is currently under construction in the South Waterfront. Until a lot of other establishments join them, though, all those residents who paid $500 a square foot to live there will just have to be content knowing that the one and only thing they can get in their neighborhood without hopping into their cars is ... a cup of coffee. Gee.


How do you put a price on half a mile of pedestrian pathway on the riverfront? That will be the best thing that comes out of this development for PDX. I cannot wait to ride the loop past all the diverse living all along this path. I have a lot of respect for our city leaders. THey understand that cities are not built in a day. This area is an investment for our kids. People will look back in 30 years and compare this to what Tom and Neil did in the 70's.


Even if two dozen new stores started construction down in South Waterfront, it will be years before they could build their stores, hire employees, stock the shelves, and open. This is (I would think obviously, but apparently not) the same for anyplace, even in existing buildings.

Furthermore, for someone to point out that building a new district costs money - no shit! But does anyone sit down and critique how much it costs to build a suburban development? Those usually lack parks and other amenities that SOWA has - like a nice waterfront park.

Anyways, this article is disengenious at best, in my opninion.

Frank Dufay

THey understand that cities are not built in a day. This area is an investment for our kids. People will look back in 30 years and compare this to what Tom and Neil did in the 70's.

Except this area isn't being built for kids...ours or anyone's. It's not family friendly, and using up resources that could otherwise go to support existing neighborhoods.

And where is the money for all this infrastructure coming from? From our kids who won't be able to afford to live there, and continue to live in park-deficient neighborhoods.

If its a great idea to develop this area like this, why can't the developers pay their own way? Why do the rest of us have to subsidize this?

Randy Leonard

As I posted in this piece on BlueOregon.com


over a year and a half ago, I support the South Waterfront urban renewal area and the development that is occurring within the district...including the tram.

As I have voted No on some of the particular funding agreements since my original Yes vote on both the development agreement and the tram, I have taken great care to make clear during my vote my reason for voting No.

To briefly repeat that here, my No votes were attempts to send the various financial arrangements back to the negotiating table until an agreement was reached that I believe would have been more balanced for the taxpayers than the funding schemes reflected in the recent amendments to the master development agreement that the council adopted, as mentioned in this post, on a 3-2 vote.

I was not voting against continuing the construction of the tram or the continued development of certain blocks in the district. I was voting against a funding agreement that I believe was clearly heavily weighted in OHSU and the developers favor.

As I attempted to make clear in my vote explanations, I have and will continue to support the goals of the South Waterfront project.

However, I was willing to reject the proposed funding package understanding that the parties would have immediately began negotiating again.

Based on my experience, I believe that a better financial package would have been produced that would have been a much fairer deal for taxpayers than the package approved.

Chris Smith

In concept, I think South Waterfront is a great idea. It's a good place to put density, but of course the devil is in the details. It seems to me that we are REALLY stretching the financial realities to make this work.

Having just gotten back from a Metro-sponsored tour to Vancouver, B.C. and its suburbs, I can't help drawing some contrasts:

1) In Vancouver, there are families of four living in 900 sq. ft. condos. The room layout is important to make this work. BUT, there are a lot more public spaces and amenities that help balance this. There are more parks, greenways, day care facilities and schools, mostly developer-funded, than in either the Pearl or South Waterfront. You can live in 900 sq. ft. (if you want to) because you spend less of your time in your private space and more time in rich public space.

2) The negotiation style is different. Where we're handing out tax abatements (at least in some cases) to get density, in Vancouver, developers are required to fund amenities to be allowed to do more density.

The core negotiating difference goes back to the point where value is created through rezoning. In Vancouver, they would figure out the desired amenities before the city rezoned. This influences the developer, who based on what he knows he has to spend on amenities, will LOWER his offer to the land owner to compensate. This means that the cost of the amenities is coming out of the land owner's pocket, since the land owner is the 'winner' who gets the increase in value due to the rezoning.

By contrast, here in Portland, we rezone, the land owner gets the value, then the developer comes to the city and asks for subsidy to make the project pencil. Government creates value, but doesn't capture much (or any) of it.

This has been discussed locally in the context of moving the Urban Growth Boundary, and one strategy on the table is to impose some kind of windfall tax. It seems to me that Vancouver's market-based approach of capturing a portion of the windfall through required amenities is likely to be much more palatable than a tax.


I'm far newer to and less experienced with the kind of grand development schemes exemplified by South Waterfront than I like. With this in mind, as I've followed its unfolding from the inception of plans for the area, the project always has seemed to me to be dubious.

It has seemed to be fundamentally borne out of a momentum arising from suggestions on the part of OHSU that they might pull up stakes and leave the hill, and by developers who hustled to devise a supposed rescue plan in response to that intimidating suggestion. The city, both anxious about possible uncertainty of OHSU's continued presence, and excited about the prospect for economic development, jumped on this jitney with a gusto.

Hasty building timelines and bad economic management judgements followed. Simple stupid errors contributed to the tram cost over-run controversy. A once wide expanse of developable property has in a very short period of time, been committed to a purpose conscientious people seem to have a good deal of concern about.

Had the properties in this area been developed more slowly and thoughtfully, a more responsible use of them might have been arrived at. Chris Smith seems to have come away from the Vancouver B.C. tour with some good information that could have helped in this respect.

Given this current situation, the project as it's proceeding is appealing enough on a number of levels; attractive buildings, pedestrian friendly, nice veiws, accessible transportation, and accessibility to downtown.

I hardly think people buying condos there have to worry about the availability of a grocery store around the corner. Such people can afford to have their stuff delivered from Safeway or probably Strohechers. Except for some construction activity nearby, those that actually live there, other than the ones that have just bought condos for spec or part time housing, probably are smart enough to appreciate the relative quiet a sparsely occupied area can represent.


People need to think long term. Yes rich people are buying places now in SWF, but what happens in 40yrs when fully built out? Will condo's be cool anymore? Will Rich people discover South AMerica and move on mass? WIll rentals make sense for reuse of these buildings? One thing cities do are change, what the city is doing in SWF is developing an urban form that can change and morph with time. The urban form is being put in place for a 200 year cycle, its not a 20 year lifespan suburban stripmall. Everyone of those buildings will see many differnt type people and story's pass threw them during their lifetime. Because they start off with the rich doesn't make them bad. My grand kids might end up living there because the buildings make great student housing for OHSU. Keep change in mind when thinking about this area. Its helps.


Cab, that is an interesting point, and one that I think noone has looked at. All of the high density developments in/around downtown are basically a type of infrastructure - for people, not transportation: a framework for living and working.

One interesting note is how Europe has handled the continuous building and renewing of its cities... housing is far from cheap over there, where a huge % of the citizens reside in the more expensive cities: it is common to take out a 99 year mortgage, such as the Netherlands, to pay for a home that may cost from $400k-$1+ million for a normal family.

However, the US mortgage system limits the payback time to what, 30 years? The prevalance of 20 year mortgages tells us what kind of investments we expect in this throw-away nation.


Frank, I cannot accept the 'we are taking away from our children' argument while our Federal Government is draining our country's coffers faster than any PDC project. It is apparent Oregon has enough money to provide for adequate schools, but that $300 check from 'excess' monies is just too good for Oregonians to turn down. Or how about the hundreds of millions of dollars that will be returned to out of state corporation's pockets?

Education, police, jails, welfare, healthcare, freeways should be taken care of at the state level. Parks, livability, libraries and redevelopment are the city's responsibilities. If we returned people to congress on both a national and state level that would honor our traditional places in government, we wouldn't have the City of Portland funding PPS, Wapato would be open by more state funds, and our hospitals wouldn't be supporting uninsured patients by the hundred or thousands a month bringing down heatlhcare costs for our employers, translating to larger wages for the workers.

I thank Randy for the responsible approach he is taking on South Waterfront funding, and appreciate that he continues to support the overall project. When PDC and city costs are controlled, money isn't given away, and developers turn a profit but also invest in more than just buildings, the district will be better off.


I see Dufay's point. The city engages in this disaster management-specualtive investment represented by SoWa while school kids, the health insurance deprived and prisoners sit around and suck eggs, waiting for the day when elected officials start honoring the traditonal places in government. Great priorities!

With more patience and thought, a real community might have been allowed to evolve where the OHSU dedicated SoWa development is being constructed. One, that might have been able to be built and inhabited by people who really need such a place to live.


"With more patience and thought, a real community might have been allowed to evolve where the OHSU dedicated SoWa development is being constructed. One, that might have been able to be built and inhabited by people who really need such a place to live."

this statement is naive in its understanding of the scale of the impact. it also assumes good samaritanism is a part of market forces. communities of this density do not just "evolve", nor do they "evolve" exactly as we would like. They require complex organization and planning, and difficult planning and spending decisions. Those decisions are argued in private long before we hear them in the paper. The City is responsible for more than just schools, much of which is invisible and highly important.

Brian's point about the quality of the city's life being a point of admiration in the rest of the country should be reiterated. Even as we criticize [as we should] some of the urban processes, our City is working better than many around the country.

Frank Dufay

Those decisions are argued in private long before we hear them in the paper.

Without denying the utility of some private conversations and debate, overall we need more transparanecy and public input into the decision-making process.

Also, I'm struck by today's Tribune article on Vancouver, B.C.:

"In exchange for the rights to build 2,800 condos and apartments, the developer built an elementary school, a sports field complex, a day-care facility and community center."

"Everything that you see here, including every blade of grass, was paid for by the developer..."

What a concept, eh? Those crazy Canadians...

Jeff Joslin

Everyone here has really just hit the nail on the head, one after the other. We would absolutely have lost OHSU to their suburban campus. SoH2oFront has made Portland and the institution a viable and marketable site for biotech and associated spin-offs which are hugely emergent sectors. The lead-time on attracting such economies is not short, and the path not clear. OHSU will be competing with comparable major urban campuses elsewhere. As such institutions go, OHSU is a heavy-hitter. With this potential campus expansion, and Portland's natural assets, they are now supremely positioned to make good on the hope and promise that these efforts have focused on.

Other revisionist history footnotes. I found curious the article's intimation that planning for this district started just five years ago. Not to mention the complete absence of the substantial role surrounding neighborhood associations and leaders played in the long-evolving story. I've personally been working on planning efforts for the area since 1995, and much of the planning work that lead to this moment occurred long before OHSU entered the equation.

Jeff Joslin
Land Use Supervisor
Urban Design/Design Review/ Landmarks Review
City of Portland
Bureau of Development Services


SoWa appears to have superblocks, not the smaller pedestrian-friendly blocks of downtown. Am I wrong about that? Are they going to break up the blocks at all?

Worse, some of the buildings (if not all) do not seem to 'meet the sidewalk'. Some of these are like fortresses set apart from the streetscape (like some of the bad development examples from Arlington, Virginia or Vancouver, BC).

Superblocks and buildings that don't meet the street would give SoWa a very different ambience than the Pearl District. Unless these problems are corrected, I don't think it will really be a 'great' place to live?


No, they use the 200' street grid. Where on earth did you get an idea that they are building superblocks? Not all of the streets between the buidlings have been built yet.

For proof, use google earth (they have a scale when you zoom in that measures 200' on the 2nd most zoomed in level) or go down to the south waterfront discovery center.

I thought that the buildings meet the street quite well so far. Some of the townhomes even have a little ped-only walkway with gardens fronting them!

Jeff Joslin

Well, in terms of block size and structure, you're both right. In the area south of Ross Island Bridge, there are two east-west swaths of double-width blocks. However, accessways and the "
Support the Portland Block Structure design guideline will generally result in typical Portland-block scale development. The area north of the bridge, with its slightly rotated grid orienting to the river, did lay out with larger blocks than typical. You can view the general plan at the end of the Central City Plan District chapter of the Zoning Code -http://www.portlandonline.com/shared/cfm/image.cfm?id=53363

Jeff Joslin

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