By Jean Baker

 

The Burnside Bridgehead site is located at the base of the east end of the Burnside Bridge. Extending north from Burnside Street to I-84 between 2nd and MLK, it covers over four city blocks in the Central Eastside Urban Renewal Area.  For development purposes, it is broken into five Blocks.

• The Eastside Exchange Building, at 123 NE 3rd, the first of the Burnside Bridgehead projects, celebrates its grand opening in September. Beam Development’s renovation of the former Convention Plaza building on Block 68 contains 92,000 square feet of creative office space, with over 40 percent already leased.

Tenants include Cascade Energy Engineering, Sightworks, Technology Association of Oregon, and the Oregon Film Office. This is the first phase in the development of a mixed-use “gateway” project.

The completed redevelopment of Convention Plaza includes a change of occupancy, exterior improvements that reflect the building’s past, a potential roof addition, new common areas on each story, parking on the lower floor, and upgrades to the structure, mechanical and seismic systems.

• Block 67, Burnside between 2nd and 3rd, is scheduled for construction in early 2014. Key Development plans four floors of structured parking, one floor of commercial/amenity space, and 16 floors of market-rate residential apartments.

• On block 75, the team of Beam Development and Urban Development Partners plans two quarter-block, seven-story towers filled with affordable work and live-work space.

Block 75 is bordered by NE MLK, NE 3rd Ave, and NE Davis and Couch streets. It includes three quarters of the block, excluding the privately-owned Union Arms Apartments at MLK and Davis.  Infrastructure projects include Couch Court, which provides direct access from Couch, and the NE Davis St extension, providing access to 2nd Ave.

Portland Development Commission (PDC) continues to explore office/retail and retail/commercial projects on the remaining two parcels of the Bridgehead, Block 69, the L-shaped piece between 2nd and 3rd, Davis and I 84, and Block 76, between Burnside and Couch, MLK and 3rd.

 

History

PDC began purchasing property at the bridgehead in early 1999, removing empty, dilapidated buildings like Baloney Joe’s and clearing some of the land. By 2007, PDC paid more than $11 million for four acres.

In 2005, the Central Eastside Industrial District along with the rest of inner NE and SE debated the merits of the plans by the three leading developers, Beam Development, Opus Northwest and Gerding Edlen. PDC selected Opus, which proposed a mixed-use development dominated by a big-box home improvement retailer.

Opus saw no use for the five-story, 85-year-old Convention Plaza building.  The inner eastside warehouse, originally the Ira F Powers Warehouse and Factory, was completed in 1925.  It served as a Sears & Roebuck warehouse and one-time ice cream cone factory before being converted in the 1980s into Class C office space.

Anticipating the Opus development, PDC moved tenants out and took initial steps to tear the building down.

The project was derailed by the 2008 recession and Opus’ internal problems.  Opus Northwest went out of business in 2010, forcing PDC back to the drawing board.

Owner Brad Malsin convinced PDC to make Beam Development the project’s strategic advisor. In May 2010, PDC adopted a new framework plan, which included saving and renovating the Convention Plaza building.  PDC sold the building and adjoining property to Beam for $2.3 million. It is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

 

The Future

PDC and Malsin say the bridgehead project will “catalyze” development in the inner eastside. The district is already enjoying a renaissance, some of it with no government assistance.

The first of the projects will celebrate its grand opening in September 2013: Beam Development’s Eastside Exchange building (formerly Convention Plaza), with 92,000 square feet of creative office space that’s already 42 percent leased to such tenants as Cascade Energy Engineering, Sightworks, Technology Association of Oregon, and the Oregon Film Office.

The Central Eastside Industrial District’s appeal is in its old buildings. Business owners are flocking to the area to revitalize buildings rather than change them.

The area has undergone a constant stream of renovation and rehab projects.  Small business owners are converting the district’s old warehouses into offices and creative spaces. The trend is expected to transform the district into a hub for innovative startups. Many businesses want to be part of the collaborative and creative environment growing in the eastside district.

PDC grant programs often aid such projects. Because central eastside properties lie within an urban renewal district, PDC is able to provide assistance through both its Storefront Improvement and Development Opportunity Services programs.

According to Terry Taylor, executive director of the Central Eastside Industrial Council, “There’s history there and true vibrancy that you can’t get in other sections of town. People come here for that, and they don’t want to change it.”