BY JON BELL
There is a monumental hole in the ground in Portland’s Lloyd District, an area long home to a signature mall, plenty of office buildings and not much more.
The hole is massive, gaping across entire city blocks, a hundred feet deep in some places and of a scale that can be hard to get your head around. Its size shrinks the front-end loaders, dump trucks and excavators that rumble across it, and the hard-hatted workers engulfed look absolutely tiny. The only features that seem somewhat in proportion are three towering yellow cranes rising from the ground and into the sky.
But this chasm will not be here for long. Come this spring, the foundations of a new three-building apartment development should be in place, with upper floors stacking up soon after. By the end of summer 2015, there will be nothing left of the void but a memory. In its place will be an entirely new residential development with close to 660 apartments, ranging from tiny studios to penthouses and nearly 60,000 square feet of retail space. It will be called Hassalo on Eighth and will be just the first of four construction phases that will add thousands of new residents to the Lloyd District and fundamentally redefine a part of the city.
“We think we can create a neighborhood where, right now, it’s just an employment center,” says John Chamberlain, president and CEO of American Assets Trust, the San Diego real estate developer that bought a $92 million portfolio of Lloyd District properties from Ashforth Pacific in 2011. “This is a transformational project for the district and the city.”
Though AAT’s $250 million project is one of the biggest and most influential residential development projects in the city, it is by no means the only one. Developers, both local and out of state, have taken advantage of an ideal mix — economic improvement, an undersupply of apartments and building codes that strongly favor density within the city’s neighborhoods — to ignite an apartment-building frenzy.
All across the Rose City, new buildings are sprouting like weeds. Here are four stories and 24 units on Southeast Division Street; there are four more stories and 50 more units in the Beaumont-Wilshire neighborhood. Don’t forget the 206 units coming to the North Williams/Vancouver corridor in 15 months at the Cook Street Apartments, the 180 more that will be just across the way in the Aleta or the 211 springing up on Northeast Broadway at 33rd in Grant Park Village.
All these projects merely scratch the surface of what’s been built, what’s under way and what’s on the way. According to a fall 2013 construction report from Mark. D. Barry & Associates, a Portland appraisal company, more than 5,300 units came on the market in late 2012 and 2013, and another 5,000 were under construction and scheduled for completion in late 2013 and 2014.
“They’re definitely building more than they have in the past four years,” says Joseph Chaplik, president of Joseph Bernard Investment Real Estate.
Developers and builders are meeting pent-up demand for rental housing from a growing population and people who are once again finding work and needing places to live. These developers are doing nothing short of transforming some of Portland’s historic neighborhoods, entirely changing the character of some areas or creating brand-new neighborhoods in others.
The apartment boom helps meet the city’s desire for density and development of long-stagnant areas. But it’s also rankling neighbors who bristle at the prospect of increased traffic, parking challenges and the loss of character that attracted residents to these neighborhoods in the first place.
How much longer the market will support such a boom is hard to tell. Estimates of units on the way range from 10,000 to 20,000. Whether it’s two more years or five or eight, the apartment spree will leave Portland neighborhoods much different than they are today: more densely packed with people, woven with restaurants and shops, and central to the city’s ongoing urban evolution.