Portland Development Commission meeting to focus on downtown retail

Portland Development Commission meeting to focus on downtown retail

Gretchen Fehrenbacher

Two decisions central to the future of downtown’s retail scene will be taken up at a meeting of the Portland Development Commission this afternoon.

Commissioners will be asked to authorize Executive Director Don Mazziotti to enter into a memorandum of understanding with May Department Stores for the renovation of Meier & Frank, 621 S.W. Fifth Ave. The meeting, beginning at 3 p.m., will be in PDC’s Conference Room, 1900 S.W. Fourth Ave., on the seventh floor.

Meier & Frank’s continued presence has been a source of increasing concern to city officials. A resolution authorizing the MOU addresses a need for a seismic upgrade and renovation of the historic 665,000- square-foot building for anchor retail and new uses in upper floor space that will be vacated this summer, as headquarters offices are moved to Los Angeles.

Keeping and redressing what is deemed an obsolete Meier & Frank building for a new day is considered the top goal in the Downtown Portland Retail Strategy that also will come before commissioners today. To access the 178-page strategy, visit Web site http:// www.portlanddev.org and then view “Publications.”

Ross Plambeck took a panoramic assessment of what the inch-thick strategy accomplishes, after months of work by a steering committee, along with other citizens and groups with stakes in the downtown, an array of consultants and city staff.

“The retail strategy identifies the need to enhance the retail core with infill strategies that would help retain our existing anchor department stores, and the variety of independent retailers that downtown retail enjoys,” he said.

Noting a strong mix of stores, as documented by a market analysis, Plambeck said consultants recognized a depth of independent merchants as one of downtown’s assets. But noting retail’s evolving nature, he said the downtown needs to make way for change.

“I guess the biggest challenge is finding sites large enough in square footage to accommodate some of the unique-to-the-marketplace retailers that would like to be in downtown Portland,” he said.

Among the constraints identified in the strategy are downtown blocks measuring 200-by-200 feet, which would restrict some of the large format stores that could be interested in Portland.

Nordstrom Department Store is viewed in the strategy as being hampered by a dated building encompassing just 174,000 square feet.

Other challenges:

. Banks, service businesses and parking garages occupy a number of sites that interrupt the flow of storefronts and dilute the concentration of retail.

. There has been no net increase in central city job creation over the last decade, a fact that impedes retail sales growth.

Also, the strategy said individual ownership of buildings could be viewed as a barrier to assembling related uses in one spot for destination shopping.

The strategy focuses on retention of stores, recruitment of new retail and entertainment, the impact of recent and proposed development and the ways in which local policy can encourage new space scaled to a welcoming retail environment. In all, the strategy encompasses 17 square blocks bounded by Southwest Alder Street, Ninth Avenue and the Midtown Park Blocks, Southwest Taylor Street and Third Avenue.

Plambeck said that as retailers “roll out their formats, they tend to go to Seattle and San Francisco, and catch Portland in between.”

Adding to downtown Portland’s appeal is the character of the environment, buildings steeped in history, transportation connections, and the downtown’s proximity to cultural and entertainment attractions. Of the latter, though, Plambeck said improved links are needed with the downtown.

PDC’s adoption of the retail strategy today would clear the way for a plan to carry out various actions within it. If the strategy is approved, staff would come before the commission again in August with a more specific program for enacting recommendations within the document. The strategy will also help guide the work of the Association for Portland Progress, which co-sponsored the project with PDC.

“We will be setting priorities, identifying dollar costs of the strategies and the responsible parties to implement them,” Plambeck said.

As for the MOU with the May Co., he said that it would enable PDC to enter negotiations and chart a course for upgrading the building. Constructed in three phases from 1909 to 1932, the 14-story building is contemplated for possible housing, a hotel or offices on its upper floors, with retail consolidated in the lower five floors. That would be half of the 10 floors presently used for retail, Plambeck said.

He noted that a feasibility study by SERA Architects poses a roughly 31-month renovation during which the store would remain open. Plambeck said it would likely take about two years before any work would ensue.

Copyright 2002 Dolan Media Newswires

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