In Portland, Ore., One Project With 2 Styles Reflects Its Neighborhood
With two distinct buildings covering one city block, the Heartline development in this city’s Pearl District serves to unite the two halves of the surrounding neighborhood.
The project, between the warehouses that dot the south and the contemporary condos that dominate the north, brings both sides together by pairing commercial and residential structures of two different architectural scales and styles.
“The location we felt was ground zero in the Pearl District,” said John Marasco, the chief development officer of Security Properties in Seattle, Heartline’s developer. “And it was a full block that offered a lot of latitude in the design of the project and the types of uses that you could develop there.”
Over the past 25 years, the Portland area’s urban growth boundary, established under state law to limit sprawl, has heightened interest in the Central City, an area that comprises 10 districts near the Willamette River. Former industrial enclaves in the Central City such as the Pearl District and South Waterfront, as well as the Central Eastside just across the river, have become popular for commercial projects.
“Initially, the Pearl was a highly residential neighborhood,” said Jerry Johnson, managing principal of Johnson Economics, a consulting firm in Portland. “But you start seeing reinvestment in former industrial areas here as firms appeal to a younger work force that wants to live and work in the Central City.”
Twenty years ago, when the Pacific Northwest College of Art moved into a renovated warehouse on the block that Heartline now occupies, it seemed to cement the neighborhood’s transition. Much like New York’s SoHo neighborhood in earlier decades, the Pearl District was transformed in the 1980s and ’90s from industrial uses to a mix of residential lofts, art galleries and restaurants occupying renovated buildings.
But another era seemed to begin in 2013 when the art college announced that it would vacate the property for a new home. Security Properties bought the block for $11.75 million with higher-density redevelopment in mind.
Because the warehouse had been altered significantly over time, its demolition did not attract opposition. The N.W. 13th Avenue Historic District ends just one block to the southwest, which meant Heartline would avoid some scrutiny. But the project’s blueprints were subject to review by the city’s Design Commission and Bureau of Development Services as well as the Pearl District Neighborhood Association, which had the power to appeal the review decisions to the City Council.
The new architecture had to be right in both style and scale, so Security Properties decided on two separate structures, each responding to a different half of the district.
On the west side of the block is a five-story commercial building framed in wood, clad in brick and affixed with a raised loading dock to resemble the historic warehouses nearby. On the east is a sleek, 15-story tower of metal and glass offering 218 market-rate apartments.
The two halves share a public courtyard atop two levels of underground parking with 211 vehicle stalls and 350 bicycle stalls.
“What makes the Pearl District is, it’s a collection of smaller buildings,” said Bert Gregory, a principal with Mithun, the architect in Seattle that designed Heartline. “It seemed appropriate to have the two buildings and the open space on site. You wanted it to fit into the neighborhood.”
Though Heartline comprises 370,740 square feet of commercial, residential and retail space, the two buildings offer less square footage than would have been possible in a combined residential-commercial tower atop a podium on the same block.
“A lot of people want to maximize their density,” said Nathan Sasaki, executive director of Apex Real Estate Partners in Portland, which leased Heartline’s commercial space. “When you’re paying a lot for the dirt, you tend to see more podiums.”
He added: “This parcel, they happened to get at the right time and could approach it as less of a commodity-based podium building. They bought it before the market went from $300 to $600 a foot for the dirt.”
Also, codes for retrofitting masonry buildings like the warehouse that existed on the site have become increasingly stringent. That can add to the cost of a renovation.
“You think of industrial when you think of this neighborhood, but renovation is often more expensive than new construction,” Mr. Johnson, the consultant, said.
Initially, the developer planned only residential and ground-floor retail for the block; before Heartline, Security Properties had never developed commercial space. But in meetings with the Pearl District Neighborhood Association before embarking on the project, Security officials were surprised to hear a plea for office space.
“I think that creates a nice mix,” said Stanley Penkin, president of the association. “You put more eyes on the street, which I think is important. It creates more liveliness. It’s an opportunity for people to live and work in the same neighborhood.”
The project, which was completed this spring, has signed Vacasa, a vacation rental management company, as its anchor tenant. The 11-year lease covers 61,000 square feet of space on the top four floors of the five-story building.
Even so, Security Properties wanted to hedge its bet, requesting that Mithun design into the commercial building the flexibility to convert to residential.
“We wanted to make sure we had a module and a window layout that would facilitate turning those floors into residential units,” Mr. Marasco said.
Heartline was approved by the neighborhood association and the volunteer Design Commission, which lauded Mithun for channeling the district’s influences — brick, a loading dock, limited height — without creating a caricature of them.
Even so, residents of two nearby condominium buildings appealed the approval, arguing that Heartline was blocking their views. A series of revisions to Portland’s zoning code, known as the Central City 2035 plan, have been taking effect, and the residents’ group, Preserve the Pearl, contended that city staff had erred in interpreting the code’s language to grant the project additional height.
“The zoning is fairly new in Portland allowing for taller buildings, and they’re getting built,” Mr. Marasco said. “It’s really in the forefront of everybody’s daily life now.”
The City Council voted 5 to 0 to deny the appeal. That decision was then appealed to the state’s Land Use Board of Appeals, which affirmed it.
Although Heartline does not fall within the 13th Avenue Historic District, honoring the character of the nearby old buildings was important, said Tad Savinar, an urban designer and visual artist who is vice chairman of the Design Commission.
“Robert Morris made a piece in the ’60s called ‘Box With the Sound of Its Own Making.’ It’s a square wooden box, but it plays a tape of the artist making the box. It’s a very hip, conceptual piece,” Mr. Savinar said. “Those old buildings on 13th remind me of that. You can almost hear the trucks unloading.”
Heartline’s commercial structure “has the material and the bulk of an old building,” he added, “but it’s completely contemporary, so it’s not a slave to that history.”