Some big names are lining up behind a spendy initiative to build a 10.5-acre mixed-use site at Northeast 102nd Avenue and Pacific Street across the street from the Gateway Fred Meyer and the transit center named the 102nd and Pacific/Generations Gateway Project. Last month, Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler opened a “Gateway community discussion” for about 70 people at the Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization, 10301 N.E. Glisan St. He introduced the project as a hallmark for his overall political legacy.
“I see this as a leadership imperative for my administration,” says Wheeler. “I will not feel like my administration has been a successful administration for east Portland if we have not got this project off the ground. It’s very important to me.”
As previously reported (“Mixed-use community proposed for 10.5-acre site in Gateway,” MCM July 2018), Prosper Portland has pledged an investment of up to $13 million for a team of private developers to construct an intergenerational, largely self-sustaining community.
How it would work
The entire site was originally owned by local developer Ted Gilbert. He now owns a 5.1-acre sliver, which he would like to divvy up among several enterprises who would act as partners. One partnered investor is Generations, a corporate retirement community that runs the CherryWood Village Retirement Community, 1417 S.E. 107th Ave. Generations would build another retirement community, as well as assisted living quarters. Mt. Hood Community College and Warner Pacific University, two health care-focused institutions, have also expressed interest in the site.
The David Douglas School District purchased the 5.44-acre site of the former Gateway Elks Lodge. Eventually, David Douglas could build a K–5 elementary school on its property, as well as some administrative offices.
All private investors plan on working as one ecosystem with no core nucleus. The tentative idea is for these distinguishable communities, representing all age groups and life stages, to illustrate the “2+2+2” program over the total 10.5-acre space. The 2+2+2 program allows for a partnership between a traditional high school, a community college and a four-year university; young adults would complete two years of each program and graduate with a career in healthcare.
Health care is one of Gateway’s most prominent career fields. It’s thought that the youth would interact in the daily lives of the retired community.
The July 17 event was hosted by Wheeler and Prosper Portland, and it was facilitated by a group known as the MultiCultural Collaborative. The MultiCultural Collaborative, according to their website, “brings together a unique multicultural and interdisciplinary team of planning and business professionals.” With “distinct approaches,” the group works to “empower communities of color by having a voice in policy and decision-making.”
The MultiCultural Collaborative holds sway in Gateway as east Portland remains the most diverse part of the city. Prosper Portland has cited its interest investing in development for ground-floor retail in some of the proposed new buildings. Here, there could be an emphasis on incorporating minority-run businesses. “Most of our residents who live in CherryWood Village, and most of our employees––almost all of the 170 employees I have at Cherrywood Village are minorities––live in the community,” says Chip Gabriel, president of Generations, who quipped that he would like to see his own mother move into a future on-site retirement home. “The number one complaint I’ve got from my residents [at Generations] over the years: They like the amenities, they like the services, they just don’t like all the old people that are here. We need to listen to them. We want to create an intergenerational community; we want to create housing for health care services and amenities can be delivered to the people who live there. We want them to be a part of their community.”
Gabriel teases that the Northeast 102nd Avenue and Pacific/Generations Project is not your run-of-the-mill construction project as all projected developers (Generations, Mt. Hood Community College, Warner Pacific University and David Douglas School District) will be the “end-users” of the property. In Gabriel’s eye, this is the rare investment that ends up in the hands of the investors.
Too many people?
Despite the political clout, not everybody in attendance at the July meeting believes the project is especially strategic—or that it has Gateway’s best interests or foremost flaws in mind.
“When I first read about it, I thought it was going to be this magnet for the community to come and enjoy retail space and restaurants, in addition to having the education and training facilities there. I think it’s going to be more of a self-contained entity,” says Ken Pearce, a retiree who downsized, moving to Gateway from Hillsdale a couple of years ago. “At the meeting, it seemed like the retail will look like a dry cleaner for the people above, so rather than [this project] being something for the whole community, it’s going to be a large development that’s going to bring in a bunch of people who will give up their car, live in their apartment and stay on their block.”
Gabriel admits that the development could attract many to the Gateway area, but the development itself is not prioritizing space for cars or an underground parking garage.
“Everybody wants their car, but nobody can drive anywhere because the roads are so bad,” says Gabriel. “From a development standpoint, there’s a real vision that 10 years from now, none of us are going to be driving our own cars. We would be spending tens of millions building garages on sites that would be worthless.”
Pearce might agree with Gabriel here, at least in terms of the road conditions. Still, he rejects Gabriel’s notion that Gateway will become car-free that soon.
“Now [the Portland Bureau of Transportation] is closing Glisan down from four lanes to two. They think it won’t affect traffic, just speeders,” says Pearce, who lives right off Northeast Glisan Street. “During rush hour, they’re going to clog those intersections. Speeders are going to be driving down my street trying to get to Halsey or Burnside at 50 miles per hour. How many little kids are going to die?”
Another worry is that the multigenerational community has gained Mayor Wheeler’s interest as a dignified pursuit in multiplying subsidized housing.
“I don’t want another 350 units of subsidized housing. They’ve already built thousands of units, and it’s ruining Gateway,” says Pearce. He also contends that a diminished police presence in Gateway will become more obvious with a larger population. Gabriel did not comment on whether Generations would have its own security force.
Gabriel admits that the development will attract a flurry of new denizens to Gateway, as well as affordable living spaces. “This will include inclusionary housing, so 10 to 20 percent of housing will be affordable for people who are 68 percent below family income. We will also be looking at not just residential displacement but also at how people will have the incomes to stay.”
Building materials will cost Gateway the same as anywhere else in the city, including high-rent districts like the Pearl or the Southwest Waterfront. In turn, none of the proposed buildings on Gateway’s mixed-use site will likely breach a six-floor limit.
“That’s a real challenge,” says Gabriel. “The community cannot afford it. You’ll see four- to six- floor buildings because we can do that in wood-frame. That’s the most affordable, efficient way to finish a project that’s most economically viable over building a skyrise.”
An alternative argument for building more sustainable, expensive buildings in the Gateway area involves a doomsday scenario. Christopher Masciocchi, another Gateway local, supports the development, but he believes city politicians should be taking Gateway’s geography more seriously.
“At a time when we are becoming increasingly aware of the need to be prepared for eventual seismic events, it’s interesting to look at a map of Portland’s areas of vulnerability,” says Masciocchi. “Ironically, the clear majority of recent development boom has focused on areas where seismic activity is likely to be the greatest. As it turns out, the Gateway Transit Center area is one of the least vulnerable. I think a case could be made for the strategic importance of developing in Gateway and potentially even locating some of the city’s offices here as a precautionary measure.”
Given recent events, there’s no denying that Gateway has evolved into a buzzword. However, with so many opposing vantage points and a suggested price tag of more than $300 million of private investment costs going into the project, it’s hard to say when the cranes may arrive at Gilbert’s lot.