|The decline of the tacky strip mall|
That’s what Gramor Development president Barry Cain is trying to do at his soon-to-be-completed Progress Ridge TownSquare in Beaverton, a $60 million investment. Cain has been developing retail centers in Oregon and Southwest Washington for 26 years, with more than 60 centers in the Gramor portfolio. As tastes have changed he has shifted from big-box malls to compact, walkable centers such as Lakeview Village in Lake Oswego. His latest Fred Meyer, due to open in Wilsonville in July, features landscaped sidewalks, fountains and an amphitheater.
At Progress Ridge, construction workers from R&O Construction are busily sculpting a 110-acre former rock quarry into a modern version of the age-old town square, with outdoor fountains and eating areas, a 24-hour coffee shop, a local hardware store instead of a Home Depot, an outdoor fireplace, a pond with a floating dock, a row of small service businesses next door to the outdoor seating in front of the cinema, all overlooking a wine-tasting garden with a planted vineyard. The center, due to open by September, has three anchor tenants, and not one is a national chain. Instead Cain has signed on New Seasons Market of Portland, Big Al’s Family Entertainment Center of Vancouver, Wash. and Cinetopia Theaters, also of Vancouver.
Cain estimates that the new center will employ more than 800 people. It is the largest retail project in Oregon since the recession hit and the most complex project Gramor has done.
It took persistence to put the project together. Between the struggles to gain approval from city planners to move Southwest Barrows Road to the other side of a creek and to get financing, the project has taken nearly a decade to pull off. Cain jokes that the process dragged on for so many years that “we almost had to change the name. Progress Ridge wasn’t really working any more.”
Now that he has received a $45 million loan from U.S. Bank and has the area 75% leased, Cain is visibly relieved. He points out amenity after amenity as he works his way from the pond with the floating dock to the picnic area outside of New Seasons and up the stairs to the living room theaters of Cinematopia, which will contain in-theater bathrooms with their own screens, enabling moviegoers to use the facilities without missing a line of dialogue.
“The more we do these things, the more we want to make places where people want to be,” Cain says. “You spend 10 years building a project, you’re not just blowing and going. You want to build something that will last.”
Progress Ridge is likely to be a hit with the people who have bought homes in the dense surrounding neighborhoods. It will also pull a certain amount of traffic away from the older strips that are suffering, potentially adding new pieces to the museum of failure. As with other examples of the latest trends, it does little to solve the puzzle of what to do with the areas that have missed the trends. But Cain predicts even the most challenging areas will transform over time. He has met with the planners trying to revitalize McLoughlin and he says he sees potential there, calling it “the most undervalued stretch of property in the region.” He can envision a completely different strip there. “You need people living there and you need cool things to make them want to be there. Give it 15 years.”