Mega-projects set to reshape Portland's cityscape

OMSI District

By Jim Redden

Portland Tribune

Publication date: May 23, 2024

Three mega-projects are on track to radically remake urban Portland in coming years.

Two would create new vibrant, sustainable neighborhoods in downtown and the central eastside.

The third intends to reclaim a historic neighborhood torn apart by ill-advised urban renewal project.

“These are transformation projects. They are a big, big deal,” Andrew Hoan, president and CEO of the Metro Chamber, said at a May 23 panel discussion on the projects it hosted. It was titled, “Portland’s Mega-Development’ Construction Projects.

Representatives from the following organizations gave updates on these projects:

  • The nonprofit Albina Vision Trust is leading an ambitious plan to reclaim the 95-acre Lower Albina neighborhood in the Northeast Portland neighborhood around the Rose Quarter. The historical home of Portland’s Black community, it was decimated in 1950s and 1960s by the construction of the I-5 freeway and Memorial Coliseum, and the city-backed expansion of Legacy Hospital. Among other things, the plan includes building caps over the freeway that physically divided the neighborhood that will support new affordable housing projects, employment-related developments, and public spaces. The federal government has committed $450 million to the work, while the Portland Bureau of Transportation has pitched in $38 million. Portland Public Schools has agreed to sell its headquarters there to the Albina Vision Trust for affordable housing projects with $25 million from the 2024 Oregon Legislature.
  • The Oregon Museum of Science and Industry has master planned a new 24-acre neighborhood on land owned by it and others adjacent to its center along the east bank of the Willamette River in Southeast Portland. The nonprofit organization intends to create a transit-oriented, mixed-use development that includes 1,200 units of affordable and market-rate housing, employment-related developments, and public spaces. It is seeking $22 million for infrastructure improvements to unlock the potential on 11 sites within the OMSI District Project planning area. Specific projects include a Center for Tribal Nations and Waterfront Educational Park along the river. One goal is to generate $1.2 billion in annual economic output.
  • Prosper Portland, the former Portland Development Commission, intends the 34-acre Broadway Corridor Project to be a new neighborhood on the former US Post Office site and surrounding properties at the west end of the Broadway Bridge. The plan envisions a mixed-use development with housing and employment opportunities that also connects the Pearl District and Old Town/Chinatown neighborhoods, with the goal to maximize community benefits, particularly to those groups that haven’t benefitted from other urban projects. The site is at the heart of a transportation network that includes light rail, streetcar, and bus, with multiple stops of each mode within 1/8 of a mile, as well as the Prosper Portland-owned Union Station.

Two board members spoke on behalf of the Albina Vision Trust. One was Sharon Gary-Smith, whose family home was displaced by the PPS headquarters. The other was former Portland Parks & Recreation Director Zari Santner, who also serves on the Portland Design Review Commission.

They explained that much of the project is restorative justice for the families that were forced to move from their homes, losing their equity and community connections. Ground has already been broken on the first affordable housing project, although the entire plan could take decades to complete.

“It’s a 20 to 30 year vision, but on track to be completed sooner,” Santner said.

Gary-Smith described herself as a “Lower Albina legacy child” who wants to the community to know the properties will be repurposed into a neighborhood they will once again want to visit and live in.

“As a 12-year-old, I was displaced and disillusioned. But now I feel hopeful, not hopeless,” she said.

Speaking on behalf of OMSI was President and CEO Erin Graham. She explained the organization is acting largely as a convener, bringing partners together to realize a vision that has been in the works for more than 10 years. A priority is providing a lasting presence for the indigenous tribes that once lived and fished along the river. Two of the 11 development sites are ready for construction, Graham said, although infrastructure improvements are still needed for the remaining nine.

“We’re operating on a consensus-driven model by bringing people together for shared prosperity,” Graham said.

Representing the Broadway Corridor Project was Prosper Portland Executive Director Kimberly Branam.

She said it will unite two of the city’s oldest and newest neighborhoods, while prioritizing affordable housing and retail opportunities. Extending Northwest Johnson and Kearney streets through the former post office site is scheduled to begin this summer, with construction to start on the first two blocks next year.

“We’ve learned from the urban renewal project that worked and didn’t work to determine what the community wants this project to accomplish, Branam said.

All of the panelists said sustainability and environmental protections are top priorities, with each vowing to be the most energy efficient new neighborhoods in the city.

Founded in 1870, the Metro Chamber is the oldest and largest membership business organization in the greater Portland region.

It advocates at all levels of government to improve commerce, encourage community development, and grow regional economic prosperity. Activities include monthly breakfast forums and other member-related events.