PSU students’ $1.3B idea for PDC’s Pearl District site

    If it were up to nine Portland State University students and the larger team they worked with, the Portland Development Commission’s 14-acre post office property in the Pearl District would eventually be home to more than 4 million square feet of new development, including mixed-income housing, condos, office towers and open spaces.

    Some 3,300 people would live in the area, with 4,500 jobs nearby. Almost all parking would be automated inside new buildings. Gardens, green spaces and a green loop would round it all out.

    Nine students in PSU’s Master of Real Estate Development program conjured up a proposal for the Portland Development Commission’s 14-acre post office property in the Pearl District that includes residential and office towers, green space, bicycle and pedestrian pathways and an extension of Northwest Johnson Street.

    The nine students in PSU’s Master of Real Estate Development program worked with ZGF Architects and PDC for 12 weeks coming up with a proposal for the site, which PDC acquired from the U.S. Postal Service for $88 million earlier this year. Called Union Park, the proposal is designed to link the Pearl District with Old Town Chinatown. The team pegged the project cost at just over $1.3 billion, with a value of nearly $1.7 billion.


    According to a presentation the students gave at a NAIOP meeting last week, the overall mix of the proposed development, almost all of which would be high-rise to maximize density, would include 843,000 square feet of office space. There would be approximately 2,700 residential units, including five mixed-income buildings, one exclusively for affordable housing and two for condos. Thirty percent of all the units — about 753 — would be affordable housing for those making 0-60 percent of the median family income.

    The plan also calls for 662,000 square feet of parking and 165,300 square feet of “active use” space.

    Chad Encinas, one of the students who worked on the proposal, said one of the biggest challenges was finding a way to incorporate so much of the necessary parking without going underground. Because the site is so close to the river and the high water table, it’s much more expensive to try and go underground.

    Instead, Encinas said about 775 of the sites would be in a parking plinth — essentially the base of one of the buildings — owned by PDC. The remaining 2,575 spaces would use an automated “puzzle parking system,” much like the one employed by the Parker Apartments at Northwest 12th and Everett.

    “To do traditional parking would have required that you make the podiums of the buildings massive, which visually becomes extremely unappealing,” Encinas said.

    The plan also extends the existing parks blocks by three blocks, culminating in a sizable public plaza at the north end of the site.

    Encinas said the team also talked at length about what kind of tenants might fill some of the retail and other spaces in the proposed development. Two that repeatedly came up: schools and a grocery.

    “Anytime you are looking at a massive development, schools and grocery stores come up,” he said. “We didn’t go that deep into what the tenants might be, but those are two we talked about a lot.”

    Though it’s a only a proposal at this point, Encinas said the goal from here is that PDC will use the plan as a springboard for what comes next. That will likely include a master plan for the entire site and some refining of ideas.

    “”The idea was that our project would be a useful reference of sorts for PDC’s future plans for the site,” he said. “Our hope is that PDC will use this and borrow heavily from it.”

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