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Downtown tower's design not set yet

Daily Journal of Commerce

December 4th 2015

After returning before the Portland Design Commission for a fifth time, designers of a planned 15-story mixed-use building with a ground-floor supermarket and underground parking learned they still have work to do.

Commissioners made it clear that approval for the project on the northwest corner of Southwest Fourth Avenue and Harrison Street, currently a parking lot, would not be granted Thursday. They then spent about three hours discussing their concerns and the changes they would like to see. The project is slated to come back before the Design Commission on Feb. 4, 2016.

All of the changes requested by the commissioners concern the building's faade that faces a pedestrian mall and Pettygrove Park, city planner Staci Monroe said.

Commissioner Tad Savinar said he would like the building to have standout features that would impress people viewing it from the park.

"It could be more diverse with windows and materials," he said. "Look at it with the landscape and the building and the user altogether."

Commissioner Jeff Simpson said the project "pushed a lot of buttons" with its massing scale, modifications of setbacks and landscaping.

"This is a very special place in the city," he said. "The landscape architects have done a great job, but it's a seven that could be pushed up to an eight."

Simpson also said that although he likes floor-to-ceiling glass windows, the building's entry points from Southwest Fourth Avenue feel "a little pinched."

Representatives of Myhre Group Architects and Chicago-based Hartshorne Plunkard Architecture spoke about the project on behalf of Chicago-based developer Core Spaces.

Tom Pope, a partner at Hartshorne Plunkard, said that his firm, the project's primary designer, has been working diligently with city staffers and has received approval for planned massing from the Portland Bureau of Transportation, the Halprin Landscape Conservancy and others.

Pope said that the design team's changes include: adding a gate to separate residential from public parking, using a perforated panel screen for mechanical equipment on the tower roof, expanding to 650 bicycle storage spaces and putting "100 percent glazing" on all four corners.

The development will provide 424 residential units on upper floors, a 33,000-square-foot supermarket and 5,000 square feet of retail space on the ground floor. Two basement levels of parking accessed from Southwest Harrison Street will serve about 150 vehicles. A large loading dock, 35 feet by 10 feet, will be located next to the underground garage entry on Harrison Street.

The building will consist of an L-shaped tower with a lower podium and two levels of townhomes on the north and east portions of the site, adjacent to the pedestrian mall and Pettygrove Park. Outdoor common spaces are proposed atop the second, fourth and 15th floors. Exterior finishes include a glass curtain wall, aluminum windows, metal panels and cast-in-place and vertical board-formed concrete.

During the hearing, several people who live in the neighborhood objected to plans for tree removal and loading zones as well as an anticipated increase in traffic.

Nikki Dennis, who lives on Harrison Street, said the neighborhood does not need a big supermarket and disputed the city's claim that the trees to be removed were diseased.

"They are only being removed because they were asked to be removed," she said.

Larry Risch, also a Harrison Street resident, agreed that the trees should not be removed and objected to the loading dock being located on Harrison Street.

"Harrison Street doesn't look like a loading zone," he said. "There's no need for a grocery or they could use smaller trucks or a drive-thru."

However, Chris Kopca, asset manager for Downtown Development Group, said the project will be good for downtown Portland.

"The development of 420-plus units of housing is a huge benefit to the neighborhood," he said. "And it will be market rate, not designated as student housing, and it will be a significant addition to the neighborhood."