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Buckman Becoming a Central City on the East Side

Daily Journal of Commerce

A six-story building, with 120 loft-like units and retail space, is planned in Southeast Portland, along Ninth Avenue and between Belmont and Morrison streets.

The renovation of the Grand Central Building was just the beginning of changes in the Buckman neighborhood’s center.

In 2005, when Foresight Development & Real Estate purchased the 45,000-square-foot building between Southeast Belmont and Morrison streets, it also acquired a surface parking lot on the other side of Ninth Avenue with plans for a condominium development. But by the time Foresight completed its $11 million Grand Central Building rehab, the recession led the firm to sideline its condo project.

Now, as Killian Pacific moves forward with a massive mixed-use development on a vacant superblock a stone’s throw away, Foresight is rehashing its plans; it’s preparing to add a six-story mixed-use building with retail space and 120 loft-like units. John Plew, a Foresight principal, sees the two projects forming a new epicenter – not only for the Buckman neighborhood, but for all of Southeast Portland.

“We see it as a city center for the east side,” he said. “It’s not just the Central Eastside, but the center of the Central Eastside.”

For Plew, that reality has been a long time coming. Every day, thousands of commuters funnel through Southeast Belmont Street; they just needed a reason to stop, he said.

That thinking is partially what motivated Foresight to renovate the Grand Central Building as an upscale bowling alley, restaurant and lounge. But Plew also knew Killian Pacific had development plans for its 92,000-square-foot block (bound by Southeast Belmont and Taylor streets, and 10th and 11th avenues).

The two companies are now coordinating their projects. They have even hired the same design company – Ankrom Moisan Architects – to ensure architectural continuity. Foresight recently applied for a pre-application conference with the Bureau of Development Services for its mixed-use project, at 915 S.E. Belmont St. Early drawings reveal a light brick facade, reminiscent of the area’s old industrial warehouse buildings. “We’re a big believer in fitting into the neighborhood, and we think it’s important to honor its industrial nature,” Plew said.

Plans call for 7,500 square feet of ground-floor retail space, and Plew doesn’t foresee any challenges filling it with tenants. He said business interest in the Grand Central Building – which has nine retail spaces in addition to the bowling alley – has been especially strong the past six months. He believes it’s an indicator that the area can accommodate more space.

Noel Johnson, vice president of Killian Pacific, said the success of the Grand Central Building is indicative of a larger trend his company has been watching. On any given Saturday, he said one can walk into that building and find a group of guys drinking beer, next to a mother bowling with her children, next to a birthday party.

“The biggest percent of change is the 30- to 34-year-olds who are having kids for the first time – they’re not moving out; they’re staying close in,” Johnson said. “They’re not buying a 5,000-square-foot home with their money. They’re spending the same amount of money, but they’re buying a smaller home … A spouse might not be concerned with redecorating the living room. They’re concerned with eating at a good restaurant.”

Killian Pacific hopes to give those people a place to go. The company is planning to construct six buildings around a central pedestrian plaza. The development – named the Goat Blocks for the herd that once grazed on the site – will have approximately 250 apartments and 84,000 square feet of retail space. Susan Lindsay, co-chairwoman of the Buckman Community Association, said she heard that a grocer and a hardware business would serve as anchor tenants.

Killian Pacific is scheduled to meet with the Portland Design Commission on Jan. 9, but company officials recently presented their plans to the Buckman Community Association. Lindsay said some meeting attendees expressed concerns about specific design details and the planned height of one of the seven-story buildings, but that most of them approved the project overall.

A lack of parking is a neighborhood concern, but both Foresight and Killian Pacific will provide surface lots with their developments.

“I talked to George Killian years ago to promote and push that spot for a grocery store because think of all the traffic that goes by it every day,” Lindsay said. “It’s an easy place to stop and shop.”

Lindsay was not familiar with the Foresight project, and said neighbors had not seen any details. Plew believes the company is about six months away from breaking ground. He’s negotiating the construction financing for the approximately $23 million project, and said lender interest has been strong.

Plew thinks Foresight’s project will complement Killian Pacific’s well, along with other multifamily projects nearby – one by Aaron Jones at Southeast Taylor Street and 12th Avenue, and one by Gerding Edlen at St. Francis Park.

“I think we’ll see it become its own little micro neighborhood,” he said.

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