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Ikea to open July 25


City planners hope Portland’s new Ikea outlet is the magic key that will unlock the long-dormant Cascade Station development.

At 8:30 a.m. on July 25, a company official and Portland Mayor Tom Potter together will saw a slice off a log in what has become a tradition for Ikea — and they will open the Swedish chain’s 256th store, the 31st in this country, at 10280 N.E. Cascade Parkway. According to local Manager Ken Bodeen and U.S. Manager Joseph Roth, if past openings hold true to form, some 40,000 people will pass through the doors on the first day, led by those who have camped out waiting for the opening for two days.

What’s the attraction?

Ikea is to conventional home furnishing outlets what Fred Meyer is to your corner mom-and-pop grocery. It stocks 10,000 items and offers services that range from daycare providers to personal advisors. You can buy a dog dish for 25 cents, a plastic coffee mug for 59 cents, a window cleaning squeegee for 99 cents. On the other end of the scale, Ikea can help you remodel and redesign the interior of your house from basement to attic, sell you all the component parts, and install them for you.

If the store isn’t customer-friendly enough for you, it won’t be for lack of trying. Store staff will offer incoming shoppers maps of where everything is and where to find it. The upper story will have model bedrooms, living rooms, kitchens and offices — even a complete model house — showing how the component parts fit together. If a countertop, bed, appliance or cabinet in this area catches your eye, the tag will show you not only what it costs but where to find it, and up to a dozen variations of the item, on the lower level.

“When we sell you the component parts, we can provide you with design advice, delivery, installation or none of the above,” Roth said.

All items are exclusive designs available only from Ikea. The company’s motto, Bodeen said, is, “Good design, good function, and affordable price.” One unique item is a child’s bed that can expand in size as the child grows.

Speaking of children, if you bring yours with you and they are between 34 and 57 inches tall, you can leave them in a store-supervised play area. If they accompany you on your shopping odyssey, they will find play stations located throughout the store.

You, and they, can fuel up at a 250-seat indoor restaurant. The menu, as in every Ikea store, will include Swedish meatballs and a salmon dish. There will also be something identifiably local. Portland’s local dish was unknown at press time, but the Atlanta store offers grits. Ikea will also have a food store offering items such as lingonberry jam. It will even have its own in-store discount store, with discounts of up to 50 percent on items with slight damage or in cartons partially opened.

Uniformity is a byword for Ikea. “All our stores are similar inside and out, whether they’re in the U.S., Russia or Stockholm,” Bodeen said. All sport the blue and yellow of the Swedish flag.

The 400 Ikea employees will wear the colors. Employees will enjoy the benefit of secure bike lockers and showers, plus a commissary that will provide a nutritious lunch for $3. Bodeen and Roth said that the company is ranked among the world’s 100 best employers, offering training and advancement as well as the chance to move seamlessly to other outlets in other cities.

“We want our employees to change jobs if it suits them, just not to change employers,” Bodeen said.

The chain does not have a first source agreement with the city, giving hiring preference to people living nearby, but Bodeen said most employees live within 15 miles.

“The values of Sweden are very similar to the values of Oregon: they’re egalitarian and environmentally conscious,” Roth said. The Ikea inventory includes high-efficiency light bulbs. Scattered through the store are receptacles for recyclable items as well as trash. The ceiling is uncovered corrugated metal because the company sees no need for anything else. Its nearest outlet until now, in Renton, Wash., is housed in a converted Boeing airplane hanger.

Ikea and Cascade Station more or less found each other. Ikea saw an opportunity, local developers the answer to a prayer.

Cascade Station was born out of former Mayor Vera Katz’s efforts to build the Airport MAX light rail line without a new bond measure. The Bechtel and Trammel Crow companies contributed $28 million of the line’s $125 million cost. In return, they received long-term leases on 120 acres of land on the line and east of the airport from the Port of Portland.

Two MAX stations for an urban village — with a combination of offices, retail, hotels and a theater complex facing 1.2 miles of park blocks — served the original plan. Individual retail outlets were limited in size to a maximum of 60,000 square feet. Commissioner Charlie Hales said the complex would be a place for travelers to shop and play while waiting for their flights, something that would be the envy of places like Chicago’s O’Hare Airport.

Unfortunately, PDX is not and probably never will be O’Hare; it is not a hub, and relatively few passengers have connecting flights. The 9/11 tragedy, which occurred the day after the MAX Red Line opened, put a damper on air traffic and made it highly unlikely that travelers would visit any attraction if it meant going through airport security twice. Trammel Crow had a more fundamental complaint: the development wasn’t going to take off without a strong anchor attraction, and the original size limitation precluded that. In 2004 Trammel Crow persuaded the city to allow big-box retailers at three locations in Cascade Station. Ikea, one of these, is 280,000 square feet.

In a tradeoff, new regulations made all new structures subject to design review, not just the parts facing the mall. This last is appropriate since, as most people have long realized, the vast majority of visitors to Cascade Station will come by car, park in the vast surface parking lots to the north and south of the structures, and probably never even see the park blocks. Steve Wells of Trammell Crow estimated that between five and 10 percent of visitors will come by MAX. In a good-guy gesture, Ikea offers a $10 discount on home delivery charges to any customer who can show a valid TriMet passenger receipt good for that day. Given that Ikea’s plain box passed design review, it is fair to say the process is not a high hurdle.

Whether because of Ikea or other causes, development is beginning to happen in the rest of Cascade Station. A 45,000-square-foot Best Buy facility to the west should open in July, ahead of Ikea, Wells said. A “multi-tenant” retail center next to Ikea is currently leasing space. An aloft hotel should break ground in a month, and this month Trammell Crow sold leases for two more hotels, Wells said. A four-story, 100,000-square-foot office building will be seeking design review this summer.

The presence of Ikea is not as important to new lessees as the fact that the overall plan will in fact be happening, Wells said. “This is truly a quality corporate retail center,” he said. “There hasn’t been anything like this on the east side of Lloyd Center.”

Will it be a boon or a bane to its neighbors? Former Parkrose Business Association President Wayne Stoll hoped that some of the crowds traveling to Cascade Station would stop off at Parkrose along the way. He did not fear competition from the new mall, likening it to a Cadillac franchise moving next to a Yugo dealership. Does the simile apply as well to the all-purpose Ikea? We’ll soon find out.
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