South Waterfront WTF?

South Waterfront/Fog

As I stare blankly out of my office window this dreary Monday morning, all I see is construction. Portland’s South Waterfront is a work in progress. As a “new guy” to this city, this area has me really puzzled. It in no way “gels” with what I know to be Portland. A pain in the ass to get to, ugly sky rise condos, and a pretty lame chain restaurant are all that it seems to offer so far. This is aside from an OHSU building full of clinics/a place I go to get a paycheck.

Whose vision was this? Are people really buying those condos? Isn’t this a floodplain? Is anyone excited about this area except for the property owners, which I hear are having a difficult time selling? Am I already an anti-development Portlander? Could I ask anymore questions?

37 Comments so far

  1. george (unregistered) on December 10th, 2007 @ 8:19 am

    The residential towers are marketed less to city folk, and more to suburban folk used to gated communities and lots of CONTROL. Baby boomers who left urban life 40 years ago who want to come back but are a bit afraid.

    Not your typical Portland type person. On the other hand, Portland is supposed to be a friendly, welcoming place, so maybe its not particularly Portland to hate on these folks.

    However, if you take a walk down past the condos to the fake park on the river (soon to be replaced by the real version) its actually a very nice spot. You look over the soon to be park section of Ross Island. People dragon boat by you. You turn around and the towers are large and new, and you can watch the tram run up the hill.

    So, its NICE. Its got that going for it.

    By the way, the Spaghetti Factory is a Portland restaurant. The first one was in Old Town I think. Only more recently have they opened 1000000 locations.


  2. Norm! (unregistered) on December 10th, 2007 @ 9:03 am

    Like The Pearl, the SoWhat (see bojack.org) district is supposedly about maximizing housing density by developing unused industrial land. It’s about building up instead of out. So instead of building another fancy suburban development at the edge of farm or forest land, the city encourages developments that build fancy towers in on existing lands.

    However, you’re right. SoWhat is not Portlanders’ vision of what the city should be. It’s the vision of an exclusive club of well-connected developers and the out-of-control PDC. SoWhat’s vision is all about recreating the Vancouver, BC, waterfront while the rest of city’s property owner pay for it.


  3. t (unregistered) on December 10th, 2007 @ 9:24 am

    yes, it is in a flood zone. The lower parking levels of all the building will flood in even a 100 year event, and in that case all properties will lose power and water because the developers choose to put utilities in the basement in favor of retail space on the ground floor. for what it is worth with the market cooling people are backing away and the tower to the right isn’t even for certain what the occupancy will be, retirement homes or rentals most likely as condos just aren’t selling.

    i agree with the above 2 comments. better than the suburbs, but definately not downtown. I am also new to portland and didn’t realize OSF was a Portland institution, but it still doesn’t earn my respect. Bland and generic italian chain.


  4. morty (unregistered) on December 10th, 2007 @ 11:51 am

    George is correct, OSF used to be located on SW 2nd/Pine. It was great fun as a kid. The Laurel and Hardy silent movies playing on a constant loop and free scoop of ice cream after dinner were enough to get a kid’s mind off of the fact that the food was pretty so-so.


  5. dieselboi (unregistered) on December 10th, 2007 @ 12:10 pm

    anyone want to rekindle some memories of the Organ Grinder on 82nd?


  6. Mary Sue (unregistered) on December 10th, 2007 @ 12:32 pm

    *sigh* just another reminder I keep meaning to do a Dueling Lunch Spots post for the SoWhat.


  7. stan (unregistered) on December 10th, 2007 @ 12:33 pm

    Definitely in a flood plain. According to Metro’s hazard map South Waterfront isn’t in a 100 year floodplain, but that area did flood extensively during the 1996 flood, when the Willamette was about 10 feet above flood stage. Supposedly all of those below ground parking garages/basements are equipped with pumps in case of flooding.


  8. morty (unregistered) on December 10th, 2007 @ 12:46 pm

    I was gonna mention Organ Grinder along with OSF as one of those places where the food was mediocre, but with enough bells and whistles to keep the kids happy, but I thought it was off-topic.
    The dad of one of my friends from the 5th grade was the organist out there and at Oaks Park, too.
    His name was Don Simmons and he even had an album out.

    So, to tie that back into So. Waterfront, I think its possible to be skeptical/disappointed with developments like SOWA without being “anti-development.”
    For a lot of us that grew up here, the place has certainly changed since we were kids. Most of us recognize that growth and change happen over time. No problem there. But a lot of folks around here are becoming fairly tired of what seems to be a desperate hurry by well-connected developers and the like to crank out these types of big-ticket projects that really have all the soul of a gated community in the suburbs.


  9. Craig (unregistered) on December 10th, 2007 @ 12:48 pm

    I like it. Its something different and takes pressure off of existing neighborhoods to absorb huge amounts of people. The development eventually will take an underutilized industrial wasteland and in its place add 3 new public parks, a new school (OGI) connect the missing portions of the Willamette greenway and add thousands of TAX paying citzens. Long term this is a slam dunk.


  10. DJ (unregistered) on December 10th, 2007 @ 12:58 pm

    I agree with Craig – I think it’s going to be great in the long term. With the influx of students and residents, within a few years it will have its own character and probably feature some stores and restaurants worth going to.
    I’m also pretty excited about the waterfront path being extended beyond Riverplace.
    My only disappointment is with its lack of connections with the streets on the other side of I-5. I know they’re planning on one bike/pedestrian bridge, but a few more would be nice.


  11. dyspeptic (unregistered) on December 10th, 2007 @ 12:59 pm

    It’s all driven by careerism. Identify the kind of development planners most want on their resumés, and most likely to get wonks on professional association speakers lists, and that’s what will get built next in Portland. Best for Portland? Doesn’t matter. Appropriate for site? Doesn’t matter. Wanted by locals? Doesn’t matter. Ignores long-identified needs? Doesn’t matter. Can we afford it? Doesn’t matter. Cover article on international planning wonk publication? Start it tomorrow!

    The ones that amuse me the most are the six figure studies, trial balloons and public process among multiple public agencies for proposals on property owned by some other public entity never consulted until the press calls them on it. Priceless.


  12. dyspeptic (unregistered) on December 10th, 2007 @ 1:00 pm

    It’s all driven by careerism. Identify the kind of development planners most want on their resumés, and most likely to get wonks on professional association speakers lists, and that’s what will get built next in Portland. Best for Portland? Doesn’t matter. Appropriate for site? Doesn’t matter. Wanted by locals? Doesn’t matter. Ignores long-identified needs? Doesn’t matter. Can we afford it? Doesn’t matter. Cover article on international planning wonk publication? Start it tomorrow!

    The ones that amuse me the most are the six figure studies, trial balloons and public process among multiple public agencies for proposals on property owned by some other public entity never consulted until the press calls them on it. Priceless.


  13. Skinny City Girl (unregistered) on December 10th, 2007 @ 2:05 pm

    Brewcaster, you’re late to the south waterfront bashing game. Would you rather have seen the area remain contaminated industrial wastelands while we send all those new residents further out into the suburbs? Would you rather be taking an over crowded bus to the top of the hill to pick up your paycheck?


  14. jim (unregistered) on December 10th, 2007 @ 2:46 pm

    I like them and would not hesitate to buy one if I could afford it. I also think Vancouver BC is a beautiful city and like the skyline. Different strokes for different folks.

    More importantly though, Organ Grinder! Hell yeah! My brothers and I had a weekly visit there with our dad for a good 4-5 years. Many a skee ball was tossed and tickets collected.


  15. brewcaster (unregistered) on December 10th, 2007 @ 3:14 pm

    Skinny City Girl:
    Thanks for asking more questions.
    I don’t have the answer to mine, I was merely pointing out that it didn’t seem to fit with the Portland I know. I am new here and don’t know much, I will admit.

    Also, outside of Mondays, I do ride an overcrowded bus up the hill to pickup/make a paycheck.

    Sorry for my lateness.


  16. Unit (unregistered) on December 10th, 2007 @ 3:27 pm

    I think it’s important to remember that this is a work in progress. While the district may not be “all that” right now, fast forward 10 years and we’ll have a functioning and lively urban neighborhood at the edge of downtown, filling the gap in the city’s soul that was the polluted industrial wasteland. Funky, probably not, but fast forward another 10-20 years, and the neighborhood has developed some character, some rough edges, and a personality. It’s vibrant, unique, and a place lots of people want to live.

    Neighborhoods evolve over decades and centuries, not days or months. And in the coming decades, this neighborhood will be better for what the city is encouraging now.


  17. Chris McMullen (unregistered) on December 10th, 2007 @ 4:38 pm

    If I hear the word “vibrant” to describe Portland Idiot Growth policies one more time, I’m gonna yak!

    BTW, in 10-20 years, SoWhat will still be contributing zero extra dollars to the general fund (thus, costing everyone else more money).


  18. pete (unregistered) on December 10th, 2007 @ 5:14 pm

    dude, stop smoking so much weed. While good questions, you should have raised them 10 years ago if you really wanted to impact. Arm-chair quarterbacking at this point is a waste of your time, and your reader’s time. It’s here, it is Portland. Deal with it.


  19. Chris Knight (unregistered) on December 10th, 2007 @ 5:52 pm

    It is either condos or an industrial wasteland. I prefer the condos.


  20. butch (unregistered) on December 10th, 2007 @ 7:22 pm

    I remember the Organ Grinder well – went there a dozen times or so as a kid. In hindsight, the food was not as disturbing as the name. Would make a good name for an adult video store now.


  21. dyspeptic (unregistered) on December 10th, 2007 @ 7:59 pm

    Y’all know there was never an open community debate on the pros and cons of putting a farm of high rises down there, or anywhere in Portland, for that matter.

    The suggestion that critics of the high rise expensive condo tower style of development want it to have stayed a polluted wasteland is childish.

    Some of us want to call out bad choices that we believe serve Portland poorly. We’d like to hope the process will be different in the future, and the same mistakes won’t be made again. Given that we’re paying for it all — good, bad or indifferent — that seems pretty reasonable to me.


  22. Frank Bonema (unregistered) on December 10th, 2007 @ 9:16 pm

    Brewcaster:

    While “blogscussion” of South Waterfront is a bit like flogging a dead horse, you’re new to town so maybe you didn’t get your fill of this subject earlier.
    I don’t think the questions you posed would constitute a “bashing game,” so you don’t really owe anybody on here an apology. Its ok to question that which you’re unsure of or don’t know about. Its beats listening to people repeat the same ill-informed arguments over and over in an attempt to sound like they know what they’re talking about.
    The false choice between “industrial wasteland vs. condos” being a prime example. You’ll hear that missive directed at just about any building vaguely resembling a warehouse.
    One of the biggest waste sites in that area, Zydell Marine is still there, and hasn’t exactly been cleaned up.
    Which is one of thoses things that, if I was going to buy a million dollar condo, I’d certainly give some thought to. Love Canal, anyone?
    The argument that the area was underutilized certainly holds water, but you can always tear a shorter building down and replace it with something taller thereby better utilizing space- the same holds just as true for South Waterfront as it does for downtown or Gresham or Beaverton or the area out by Ikea.
    There was mention at one point in the not too distant past of locating a major league stadium down there in a bid to lure MLB. That didn’t happen for a lot of reasons, but it illustrates the point that things are never as simple as choice 1 vs. choice 2.


  23. chris (unregistered) on December 10th, 2007 @ 9:49 pm

    Agree that it’s late to be WTFing now. I think it’s good use of the brownfield and just needs 10+ years to build up.

    The important question is, has anyone determined where Cirque tents will be setup now? Just kidding.


  24. brewcaster (unregistered) on December 11th, 2007 @ 6:54 am

    Thank you all for reading and participating! For being such a dead horse topic, you all seemed really interested in sharing some thoughts. I/We really appreciate your feedback.


  25. Joseph (unregistered) on December 11th, 2007 @ 9:28 am

    As a lifelong Portlander I have to say that this neighborhood is a very welcome development for me. You may not prefer the steel and glass tower look, but this is a housing option that was almost completely absent in Portland prior to 2000. Personally I couldn’t be happier that this is the direction we’ve been moving over the last decade and my fiancee and I can’t wait to outlast the national financing debacle and get into one of these condos in the (hopefully) near future.


  26. Brandon (unregistered) on December 11th, 2007 @ 10:32 am

    Here’s a delayed bit of Organ Grinder-related nostalgia.

    I still eat at the Spaghetti Factory. I can’t get enough of their “Manager’s Favorite” meat sauce/mizithra cheese combo.


  27. Brandon (unregistered) on December 11th, 2007 @ 10:48 am

    Link, take 2.


  28. Brandon (unregistered) on December 11th, 2007 @ 10:51 am
  29. Elge (unregistered) on December 11th, 2007 @ 11:20 am

    Sorry George. I don’t mean to be picky but although the Spaghetti Factory started in Portland in 1969, there’s been one in the Old Town section of San Jose, California for over 30 years. That makes it a chain restaurant in my book.


  30. Skinny City Girl (unregistered) on December 11th, 2007 @ 2:56 pm

    Frank, You’re right. The choice is condos vs. industrial wasteland PLUS sprawl. What exactly do you propose the community does with a large piece of land that close to the city center? Bungalows on 4,000 square foot lots? It wouldn’t even pay for basic infrastructure. Would you rather have the demand for housing get absorbed on the periphery, in places like Happy Valley and Forest Grove. I suppose we wouldn’t notice it as much because it would occur piecemeal, one subdivision at a time. But the cumulative effect will be much worse.


  31. Chris McMullen (unregistered) on December 11th, 2007 @ 5:10 pm

    “What exactly do you propose the community does with a large piece of land that close to the city center…”

    Umm, have a private entity develop it without tax breaks and subsidies.

    If density is so attractive, why do we need to constantly subsidize it?


  32. george (unregistered) on December 11th, 2007 @ 10:33 pm

    question: if density is so attractive, why do we need to constantly subsidize it?

    answer: the city doesn’t have to, and the city doesn’t constantly subsidize it. density is happening all over portland just about every business day with no public money. quietly, slowly. in my neighborhood duplexes and multi family units are slowly replacing empty lots and distressed (sometimes not distressed) houses.

    just because the city got a snookered in SoWa doesn’t mean that all density gets subsidized.


  33. chris (unregistered) on December 11th, 2007 @ 10:38 pm

    I think those tax breaks and subsidies are not as free flowing as they once were in many parts of downtown. The urban renewal dollars are getting used with long term visons in mind.


  34. Skinny City Girl (unregistered) on December 11th, 2007 @ 11:21 pm

    “If density is so attractive, why do we need to constantly subsidize it?”

    Chris, believe it or not, we subsidize all development. The difference is that lower density is way more expensive for all of us. Our taxes pay for a mile of road, water, sewer, and storm drainage regardless of whether there are 10 houses along that road to pay for it or 100 houses. There is no such thing as a private entity paying 100% to develop. All those duplexes and multi-family units springing up are being subsidized, too.


  35. RM (unregistered) on December 11th, 2007 @ 11:42 pm

    “The development eventually will take an underutilized industrial wasteland and in its place add 3 new public parks, a new school (OGI) connect the missing portions of the Willamette greenway and add thousands of TAX paying citzens. Long term this is a slam dunk.”

    And with all the tax abatements offered to developers who will actually pay for this? Metro taxpayers will, not necessarily the local SoWhat residents.


  36. Chris McMullen (unregistered) on December 12th, 2007 @ 10:37 am

    Skinny, please. The amount of tax dollars spent on suburban developments pales in comparison to the massive subsidies for the Pearl, SoWhat, The Round, Cascade Station, etc. When you add in money losers like the tram, MAX and street cars, on top of Tax Increment Financing and other subsidies, forced density is a total joke.

    BTW, user fees pay for roads and sewer. Property taxes pay for schools, fire and safety. Letting development happen by free market forces instead of government mandate just makes fiscal sense.

    The developer should be the one taking the risk on their investment, not the tax-paying public.


  37. george (unregistered) on December 12th, 2007 @ 4:32 pm

    sadly, “free market forces” and development are impossible.

    there are far too many externalities… do developers in vancouver pay for the increased health problems for portlander’s living along I-5? nope.

    so to compensate, government adopts a public policy to try to capture externalities. you could argue that its the subsidies that create something closer to a “free market”.



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