The Future of Portland Downtown is Up for Vote

future of portland downtown real estate

Cities grow and change. It’s a fact of life. The Portland of today would not be recognizable to the mill workers, river traders, and farmers of the 19th century. Will we recognize the city in twenty, forty, or sixty years?

The best way for a city to grow is by anticipating the needs of its residents, and the City of Portland, with many partner organizations, has done the work of gathering citizen input on everything from streets to public safety to building codes.

The most recent product of that process is the Portland Central City 2035 Plan, a huge, six-volume document that sets out guidelines for building a vibrant, healthy central city that provides jobs, housing and quality of life for the next generation of Portlanders.

What is the Central City?

Nothing less than the heart of Portland! The Central City extends from the South Waterfront up to Albina, and from Goose Hollow to the Central Eastside, a region that includes Downtown Portland, the Pearl District and four other neighborhoods. It’s home to more than 32,000 people and 123,000 jobs in less than five square miles.

Portland’s Central City is a hub of local culture, not to mention the best place to enjoy the Willamette River. It’s home to PSU, OHSU, OMSI, and several other major employers and attractions. How the Central City is shaped will influence the rest of Portland for decades to come. Let’s take a look at what’s in store for Central Portland between now and 2035, and how it could impact local real estate.

New Housing, Greener Buildings

The Plan claims to lay the groundwork for 37,500 new housing units in Central Portland by 2035. It does so by increasing density, bumping up the maximum building height in some areas, and allowing for new uses of existing buildings. Density is definitely key for growing a city that is expected to add 750,000 residents in the next 20 years. (For now, it doesn’t sound like housing is going to be able to keep up, which will force a lot of homebuyers into surrounding communities.)

CC2025 also puts in place green building requirements for commercial structures. At the very minimum, they will need to install ecoroofs and use bird-safe window treatments. Larger structures must be built to a green certification such as LEED or Green Globes. Check out these images of LEED-certified buildings to see how innovative and visually striking they can be!

Portland Green Spaces and River Protection

In 2015, Portland and Multnomah County signed on to the regional Climate Action Plan, with the goal of achieving an 80% reduction in carbon emissions by 2050. This means getting cars off the road and planting many more trees.

Proposals to make this happen include the Green Loop, a “linear park” connecting downtown Portland with the South Waterfront, crossing over the Willamette River to the Central Eastside, and heading all the way up to the Lloyd District before crossing back over to the Pearl District. The city will plant trees and commission public art along the path, creating an inviting space for people to go car-free from one part of the city to another.

More trees are promised across the Portland Central City in CC2035. Urban trees not only make a lovely streetscape, they also help cool the air, manage stormwater runoff and increase habitat for birds and other critters, to whom having a continuous canopy is important.

Finally, Portland is going to step up its environmental protection game on behalf of the Willamette River. This major waterway was once the most polluted in the state, but cleanup efforts have been effective, with the water being deemed safe enough to swim in by last summer. CC2035 places the Central City riverfront in an Environmental Overlay zone, restricting the types of activities that can take place there.

A Portland “Innovation Quadrant”

Portlanders used to work in lumber mills and shipyards, now our economy is mostly based around technology and manufacturing. To ensure that there will be jobs for the growing population, the CC2035 plan calls for an Innovation Quadrant in the Central City. The district, according to PSU, a major player, will be “committed to propelling Portland to global prominence at the intersection of health, science and digital technology”. It will extend from the PSU campus to the South Waterfront, where OHSU is already constructing new research labs, to the Central Eastside, where many of Portland’s technology jobs are already housed. The goal is to mix academic researchers with health and technology entrepreneurs, to create a hotbed of innovation that will birth the industries of the future.

Preserving Portland History

Most Portlanders prefer that the city move into the future while maintaining landmarks from the past. Two major forces threaten historic buildings in Portland’s Central City: development and earthquakes.
To protect historic homes and older warehouses from demolition, CC2035 rezones them to allow for commercial use, hoping that by attracting businesses they will allow these old structures to fit into the new, jobs-oriented model.

Most historic buildings in the Central City are in need of seismic upgrading if they are to survive into the next century. CC2035 offers incentives to developers to perform these important upgrades. Finally, although the plan gives developers leeway to build higher than ever before in many areas of the Central City, it actually reduces hight allowances in historic districts. Doing so will help preserve the character and historic value of these buildings.

The Vote

The Central City 2035 plan is slated to come up for a city council vote in Spring 2018. If it goes through, the Portland of the future will feature more high-rises, more opportunities for condo living, and more green space. The Willamette River will be cleaner, more accessible and more fun with vendors lining the waterfront. Getting around the Central City will be easy on the Green Loop and new businesses will be attracted to the heath-oriented tech industry. We’ll keep an eye on the past while gearing up for a busier, more populous future. Check out the City of Portland’s CC2035 Fact Sheet to learn more.

November 24, 2017

Stephen FitzMaurice

Stephen FitzMaurice, Realtor is a top 5% real estate agent in the U.S. and a top 1% agent in the Portland Metro. Principal Broker in Oregon, Managing Broker in Washington he has been licensed since 2003 for residential real estate sales in the Portland Metro area. Call him direct: 503-714-1111.

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