By Don MacGillivray

The Central Eastside District (CED) is arguably the most dynamic and evolving quadrant of Portland’s Central City. Its energy and change are revitalizing the old and creating the new. This is all explained in the SE Quadrant Plan that is taking shape under the care of the Portland Bureau of Planning and Sustainability. The major theme of the plan is to increase employment in the Central Eastside so that all land uses will grow and thrive. It is a long-range development study that will coordinate transportation, new investments, and encourage new employment opportunities with appropriate commercial and industrial developments. Through the robust public involvement process the people most affected by the plan are helping to define it.

The CED is defined by the Willamette River on the west, Twelfth Avenue on the east, the Banfield Freeway on the north, and Powell Boulevard on the south. Within this area are the East Portland Grand Ave Historic District, the new MAX stations at OMSI and Clinton, and the Eastside Esplanade. The Central Eastside is known as an important manufacturing and warehousing district in central Portland. It is home to over 1,100 businesses with 17,000 jobs making it one of Portland’s major employment centers. The area’s central location, low rents, and eclectic atmosphere have made it popular among entrepreneurs, creative professionals, and business interests. Defining the changing character of the Central Eastside and developing ways to balance the many needs and uses, both old and new, will be the major challenge for the future of the S.E. District.

The streets along Martin Luther King Boulevard, Grand Avenue, East Burnside, Morrison and Belmont Streets, as well as much of 12th Avenue, contain more than 85 acres of mixed-use zoning that will grow. With the renewal and relaxed zoning requirements all proposals call for the preservation of the character of the East Portland Historic District.

In 1988 the new policy direction was to keep and preserve the Central Eastside as an industrial sanctuary by emphasizing the traditional industrial sectors of manufacturing, warehousing and distribution. But the Central Eastside is increasingly attractive to Portland’s growing knowledge and design businesses that are likely to rehabilitate many of the older, close-in industrial buildings. When successful, sensitive transitions among the industrial, employment, and adjacent residential neighborhoods will be found.

Once known as Produce Row the CED was home to the warehousing and distribution of fresh foods and many other products. The small block pattern created transportation constraints making large-scale business expansion impossible. Yet many businesses could operate on smaller sites and succeed because of the centralized location and reliable access to regional transportation. Major industrial companies such as wood and metal fabricators and equipment manufacturers have operated in the district for well over one hundred years and many continue to this day.

A manufacturing revolution is currently underway in the district characterized by new types of businesses that are rapidly succeeding by making specialty goods in modest spaces with advanced technologies. Other businesses are combining traditional techniques with advanced manufacturing tools, such as 3D printing. Among the businesses that call the Central Eastside home are: catering and food preparation, brewing and distilling, film production, advertising, software development, architecture, engineering, industrial design, and web-based industries. But without new regulatory tools, the Central City will not be able to keep up with the demands of the increase in workers and residents.

The City of Portland has made significant public investments in transportation facilities such as light rail, streetcar, bike, and pedestrian facilities. The Portland-Milwaukie Light Rail line with the new Tilikum Crossing, opening in the fall of 2015, will cause a renaissance in transit service in the Central Eastside. Already served by bus and streetcar, the district will soon be connected to the greater region by the MAX light rail line to Milwaukie. With lots of untapped development potential, the CED will provide ample opportunities for supportive retail and mixed-use development. The CED lives or dies by how well it is served by freight. Nearly every business in the district receives their raw materials and ships their products by freight from small vans to big semi-trailer trucks.

As employment densities grow in the district, new parking strategies will be required for the expanding job base, especially for those who are not able to use transit. With growth comes congestion that could affect many businesses. By making routes that appeal to the different modes of transportation, trucks, bikes, pedestrians, and cars there will be reduced possibilities of gridlock. Finding ways to reduce congestion and the demand for parking can be accomplished by encouraging more employees to use alternative transportation. Unfortunately the I-5 Freeway and the north-south railroad make the area less desirable for public use due to long waiting times for trains to pass and the train whistles that can be heard for miles.

There are concerns about the lack of open space, green infrastructure and improving access to the river as well as its wildlife habitat. It will be necessary for employees and residents to have places to gather and relax near the most intense employment and residential developments. One of the solutions to this issue is for the Willamette riverfront to include an enhanced natural habitat and by improving the recreational options such as swimming and boating. The long planned Washington-Monroe Aquatic and Community Center is expected to be built adjacent to the CED at SE Stark Street and SE Twelfth Avenue, but no mention is made of this facility.

Recommendations for the SE Quadrant will go to the Portland City Council this summer to be included in the entire Central City 2035 plan. In 2016, the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability will begin the public hearing process to adopt the final detailed C.C.-2035 plan. To learn more about the Central Eastside and the planning efforts visit the SE Quadrant Plan web pages to review a copy of the plan and review the additional information.

“Prediction is very difficult, especially if it’s about the future.” —- Niels Bohr, physicist