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Nurturing Growth in Lents Town Center

Nurturing Growth in Lents Town Center

Garrett Martin
January 6th, 2017

On Sunday October 23rd of last year, we joined Bremik Construction and the Portland Development Commission to strike golden shovels into the ground and begin construction on the 9101 SE Foster project, a mixed-use multi-family building in the heart of Lents Town Center.

When complete, our building will accommodate 64 apartments on 3 floors, over a podium of storefront commercial spaces.  Funded by the Portland Housing Bureau and developed by the Portland Development Commission (PDC), the studio, 1, 2, and 3 bedroom units will be priced in a 60/40 ratio of market-rate and 60% median-income ‘affordable’ rents. This is the first new construction project actually developed, owned, and managed by PDC. As such, it stems from a unique development pro-forma which places the needs of the community on equal par with more conventional real estate investment priorities. The first of five such buildings to rise on formerly derelict and underserved sites in a once vibrant historic downtown, the 9101 building aims to be both a vanguard and a symbol for a new type of long-awaited, neighborhood-tailored development in Portland.

With construction booming and housing costs skyrocketing in Portland, most dense multi-family developments are greeted with suspicion by surrounding communities. But things are different in Lents Town Center. While traditionally desirable neighborhoods are pushing back against a wholesale ‘boutique-ification’ of their existing urban character and housing stock, Lents contends with empty lots, vacant storefronts, and a lost vibrancy in its once bustling commercial core. Like many ‘outer ring’ suburbs, this formerly autonomous town once enjoyed its own independent identity, founded amid farmland but ultimately subsumed by 20th-century auto-sprawl. With Portland’s ascendancy as a dense and livable urban sanctuary, Lents and its neighboring districts found themselves on the outside looking in, missing out on much of the civic and social amenities afforded to the sexier, more affluent and close-in areas of the central city.

Down but not out, Lents residents kept up continuous pressure at City Hall, pushing for the establishment of the Lents Urban Renewal District in 1998. Eighteen years and tens of millions of public investment dollars later, the tide finally appears to have turned. With a recovering economy and soaring central city development costs, the neighborhood has at last proven to be fertile ground for the investment needed to spark meaningful progress. Yet the neighborhood will not see itself gentrified into placelessness. With the help of PDC as major land owner, the uniquely scrappy ‘Lents Grown’ spirit was carefully baked into development guidelines aimed to germinate local business in a renewed Town Center while providing much needed housing for a priced-out middle class. A key component of this plan was to mix new locally owned commercial spaces with truly sustainable affordable housing—not just for the poor, but also for stable working-class mid-wage earners who comprise the backbone of Lents’ multicultural identity. The goal was not for gentrification from above, but rather for renaissance from within. With the help of public incentives and investments, the development community is now responding.

Sense of Place

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As a catalyst for this awakening, Hacker’s 9101 Building seeks a key role in linking Lents Town Center’s proud past to an optimistic future. With ‘Lents Grown’ baked into the DNA of the design, every aspect of the building has been tailored to enhance the existing strengths and local character of the neighborhood. The overall silhouette of the building is designed to reinforce Lents’ character of small-town urbanism where modest homes and gardens surround a welcoming, walkable town center. Its exterior materials pose a modern interpretation of the area’s agrarian roots, matching deeply textured wood cladding with structurally-glazed aluminum storefronts, to strike a balance between machine-refined and handmade rustic.

The building is sited to leverage its close proximity to a rare variety of transportation options found in the area. Car parking is not forgotten but bicycle parking is to be celebrated, on display alongside the shopfronts  of 92nd Avenue. Along the sidewalks of SE 92nd and Foster, the building aims to restore the commercial streetscape of the Town Center by wrapping two major streets in pedestrian-friendly storefronts. The busy angular slice of Foster Road is woven into the building’s shape with apartment balconies and a public courtyard acting as buffers from the clamor of the street. A tree-lined and generously planted courtyard extends the storefront along Foster Road deep into the lot to add sorely needed public gathering space at the street level. The apartments are designed to maximize access to daylight and fresh air for residents within a variety of sizes and bedroom counts, including a number of 3-bedroom units tailored to families currently underserved by the housing market. With a mandate for LEED Gold rating, the 9101 Building will also enhance the health of its residents and the region for generations to come.

As construction progresses, we will continue to enjoy this opportunity to nurture the development of a building that represents so much more than itself. And in October we will all get to see what a ‘Lents Grown’ building really looks like.

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