New neighborhood shapes up on waterfront

A new neighborhood is taking shape on the Macadam waterfront property known as the River Blocks.

The River Blocks, south of the Ross Island Bridge, are a 31-acre section of the 130-acre South Waterfront District, a former industrial area once known as North Macadam. The South Waterfront District is a smaller part of the 409-acre Macadam Urban Renewal Area.

The Macadam development is part of the South Waterfront Plan. Adopted by the Portland City Council in November 2002, the plan set the vision for the last major undeveloped tract within Portland’s city limits.

Goals of the $2 billion South Waterfront Plan include the creation of 10,000 science and technology jobs, at least 3,000 housing units (of which more than 700 will be “affordable”), a multimodal transportation system (streets, streetcar, aerial tram to the main OSHU campus and a series of bike and pedestrian trails) and significant parks and greenspace, all with an eye to environmental sustainability,

The southernmost-paired structures are collectively known as the Meriwether, a pair of tower condominiums. One is 21 stories, while the other is 24. The buildings are scheduled to open in summer 2006.

Just south of the Meriwether, the John Ross is taking shape. The John Ross, another tower condominium, will reach 325 feet, the maximum height allowed in the new neighborhood.

The northernmost building is the new Oregon Health Sciences University Center for Health and Healing. The center is the first of four buildings in the new OHSU complex.

The OSHU Center – also known as Building One – is garnering attention for its environmental friendliness. When finished, it will be the tallest building to earn the world’s top biotechnology rating for being “green,” the platinum award from the United States Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED).

Only 12 other buildings worldwide have received LEED platinum recognition.

Rows of solar panels on the OHSU center’s southern walls will generate electricity and will also shade the building in the summer months.

Wastewater in the OHSU center will bypass the city sewer, undergo purification with a membrane bioreactor and will then be used to water the landscaping. Another portion of the reclaimed water will fill a water tower to provide air conditioning.

Stairwells in the center will be ventilated with natural breezes, and air-circulation systems will capitalize on floor radiators and chilled beams to create a natural oscillation of cool and warm air in office spaces.

All told, the environmental improvements in the OHSU center will cut electric use by 40 percent and save an estimated $400,000 in annual electric bills. Furthermore, the OHSU center is being built for about 25 percent less than a similar-sized structure built with conventional construction techniques.

The demand for condominium space in the Macadam waterfront is high. A fourth tower, the Atwater, will be built south of the Meriwether. Four more high-rise structures will follow the Atwater.

To meet transportation needs, a network of new streets and bicycle paths will weave through the area. An aerial tram, built by Portland Aerial Transportation, Inc., will carry passengers between the OHSU center and OHSU’s Marquam Hill campus (known affectionately as “pill hill”).

The tram was first conceived by OHSU in the 1990s, envisioned as a way to make traffic and people movement manageable for the Marquam Hill complex, where traffic and parking are already nightmarish. Construction of the tram is underway, although it has also been plagued by budgetary problems and construction delays.

According to PATI, the tram cars, called “cabins” by PATI, have been designed to resemble giant blue-gray soap bubbles that “disappear” into the sky. Each cabin will have a capacity of 70 passengers, or some 12 tons, including the cabin itself and its cable connections and structures.

In response to concerns of neighbors under the tram route, cabin windows will be high enough to screen the neighborhoods from passenger view, and will not open.

The tram is scheduled for operation from 6 a.m. to midnight, 360 days a year, with cars departing at 5-10 minute intervals. The cost of riding will be equivalent to a Tri-Met two-zone fee.

Currently the tram is scheduled to open in September 2006, six months behind schedule. Its price has almost tripled, now standing at an estimated $45 million.

The Portland Streetcar will also expand into the new Macadam area, along a new 0.6-mile line connecting Riverplace with the new tram station. Completion is planned for July 2006. The addition of three additional streetcar units will improve headway intervals to 10 minutes.

The waterfront area will also include parks and a broad greenspace along the river.

Not everyone is excited about the new developments. Residents of the Lair Hill neighborhood, which rests directly between Macadam and OHSU’s Marquam Hill complex, have opposed the aerial tram since its conception.

And while the new high-rise tenants will enjoy spectacular views of river and mountains, many Lair Hill homeowners have lost precious views of Mt. Hood in the wake of rising walls of concrete.

A series of “tram mitigation priorities” granted to the affected neighborhoods by the Portland Development Commission include traffic modifications, a pedestrian bridge that crosses I-5 at Gibbs Street, parking management, trail improvements and a voluntary property buy-out program.