|Gateway Transit Center redevelopment approved
THE MID-COUNTY MEMO
Despite misgivings, and a hissing match between a supporter and a city official, the Portland Design Commission last month approved redevelopment plans for the Gateway Transit Center.
The action clears the way for construction in the center of the Gateway Transit Center parking lot, of a three-story 101,000 square foot medical office headquarters building for The Oregon Clinic, and a three-level, 573-space parking garage on the lots north end to serve both the transit center and the office building.
The project is Phase I of a master plan for the redevelopment of the lot, with subsequent phases calling for additional floors of medical offices plus either general office or housing on top of the medical office building; two more levels added to the parking garage, bringing its capacity to 1400 spaces; and two more buildings on the lot, including a hotel. The project is a joint venture by the clinic, Gerding-Edlen Development Company, the Portland Development Commission and TriMet.
As this issue goes to press, a decision on the centers overall master plan was pending before a city hearings officer who was expected to approve it. Gerding-Edlen Developments Jill Sherman told the Memo that a groundbreaking for the office building should happen in Monday, June 13, the garage in August. PDCs strategy for changing Gateway into a high-intensity regional center relies heavily on the redevelopment of the transit center. The Design Commission acknowledged its importance, yet struggled with designs that they felt were inadequate. In fact, in early May they told the development team to come back with improvements, despite Gerding-Edlen principal Mark Edlens plea, In two weeks our funding disappears.
The commissions biggest problem was with the garage, which member Tim Eddy called a concrete radiator with lights inside, and as the basis for something even bigger a little frightening.
More specifically, they wanted entrances at the corners of the building, more landscaped screening, and provision for future ground floor retail. There was general consensus that retail use there at this time wouldnt work.
In particular, Commission member Lloyd Lindley acknowledged that because of its isolation the site is a very difficult location. I cant visualize this as a retail location now...Its easy to pick the plums off the tree, much harder to build a community from the ground up. He added, I havent heard anyone say this is a bad project, or that they dont appreciate the hard work thats been done on it. However, he added, the garage needed a more urban feel, with ground floor active area.
Design Commission member Andrew Jansky was particularly torn. I see how key this project is to the development of the area, he said. Our comments on ground floor retail have been heard. Is it enough?
It doesnt look like it, but Im scared of pushing this too far and breaking it. Its important we get this to closure. If we lose the whole thing, the details wont matter.
Design Commission member Jeff Stuhr said, The key is to put a presence at a pretty vacant corner (Northeast 99th Avenue and Multnomah Street). I realize we need to get this out of the gate. Its just that there are things we can do now that are easier than adjusting once people are there.
Two weeks later the team was back. Landscape architect Kyle Anderson brought new screening plans with metal mesh screens, two kinds of vines and hornbeam trees. Architect Kyle Anderson explained why there could not be entrances exactly at the corners as the commission wanted, and the team had a new partner - Providence Health Systems - represented by consultant Beverly Bookin whose testimony may have cost them a vote.
Bookin said that Providence was negotiating to purchase 10,000 square feet on the ground floor of the east side of the garage, half of it for a physical therapy clinic, half for 27 parking spaces. She said that the commission was asking for too many exterior entrances to the space, especially since most visitors would enter from the parking area.
Providence is the only one seeking to use this space; theres not one behind us, Bookin said. The one user stepping up to the plate needs to have its issues addressed. We shouldnt be penalized for being the good guy.
Commission member Loren Waxman replied coldly, Im not sure I understood all of what you said, but I would ask you to speak directly to the design guidelines were concerned with.
We need to talk about compromise there, Bookin replied. I understand you have guidelines, but this project has been 20 years in the making, and its finances are rickety. If Providence is forced to walk away, you can negotiate with the next developer who comes along.
Lindley, who was chairing the meeting, steered the conversation to other issues. In explaining their votes, the commission members made it clear they were voting because of the projects overall merit, and in spite of lingering concerns about the garage. Its barely there, but I think its there, Eddy said.
The garage is a necessary evil to make this go, Stuhr said. Not withstanding the effort that went into it, I still find it wanting, very suburban. Lindley said, Im a landscape architect and I like plants, but theyre not a substitute for good design.
Waxman cast the sole dissenting vote, even though he approved of both the master plan and office building and considered the overall project a net gain for Gateway. He said that TriMet and Gateway shouldnt come here with a feeling of entitlement for lowering the bar. It strikes me youll get an approval tonight, but as the area grows and other garages are built, its important to send a message that we expect a pretty high design here, especially from our public partners.
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