“Community” and “partnership” were the words on everyone’s lips Tuesday as a group of developers, contractors, architects, Concordia University staff and Metro officials broke ground on new mixed-use student apartments in Northeast Portland’s Vernon neighborhood, at the corner of Northeast Killingsworth and 16th Avenue.
Though the event was purely ceremonial – construction had already begun weeks earlier so it can be finished before the start of school next year – it was an opportunity for all those involved in the development to talk about the cooperation and shared vision that have brought the project to fruition.
The building has yet to be officially named, but that didn’t blunt the excitement among Concordia staff and students, who feel the timing and location of the project could not be better.
“One of our guiding principles at our university has always been ‘what is good for the community is good for Concordia,’” said Concordia executive vice president Garry Withers. “We are currently the fastest growing university in Oregon, so we are excited to follow a national trend of universities developing off-campus student housing that integrates with the surrounding neighborhood.”
“This is a new adventure for us in housing,” added the university’s dean of students, Steve DeKlotz. “Having Concordia students living out in the community allows the school to continue its mission of educating students who are ready to transform society.”
The project will be a four-story apartment building with ground-floor retail and Concordia acting as the master tenant of the 34 residential units, which the school will manage and lease out primarily to graduate-level and married students.
As part of its Transit-Oriented Development Program, Metro provided $250,000 in funds to the $6.4 million project, which will be located approximately 500 feet from TriMet’s No. 8 bus, a Frequent Service line running downtown via the Lloyd District.
Metro Councilor Carlotta Collette was on hand at the ceremony to speak about Metro’s support of the project.
“At Metro, one of the things we’ve seen is that having students and education in the community is a great way to revitalize an area,” Collette said. “We were excited to work with our partners on this project specifically because the housing will be far enough away from campus that there’s greater interaction with the surrounding neighborhood.”
That sentiment was echoed by students who were present at the ground-breaking, like Johnny Montes De Oca and Airra Kaye Asuncion. “I’d love to live here! I’m definitely excited for the school and for the project,” Asuncion said.
De Oca, the student body president, agreed. “It’s a perfect location,” he said. “Close enough to walk, just far away enough that you don’t feel stuck on campus.”
The project has been developed jointly by Andrew Clarke of Hugh Development and Urban Development Partners since 2013. Clarke initiated the development in 2011, approaching Urban Development Partners with the property and the plan to partner with Concordia.
“The project we envisioned all those years ago is finally here,” Clarke said with a laugh during the ceremony. “I started this project to figure out a way to help solve the housing problem here and interact with the community. This is my first project, and I’m excited for this building to be an asset to the area that I grew up in.”
“Development is a glacial process that ages you fast,” joked Eric Cress, the project manager from Urban Development Partners, or UD+P. “And it’s also a profession that’s all about professional partnerships, and we’re definitely excited to be working with (Works Partnership Architecture) and Colas Construction on this project."
“The support from Metro has also been great,” Cress added. “I’m from the Bay Area, and I don’t think there’s another organization in the country quite like Metro – not afraid to plan beyond the horizon, 30 to 50 years out.”
The building, located on the site of a former convenience store, was designed by Works Partnership Architecture. Colas Construction is the general contractor for the project. Andrew Colas, whose father Hermann founded the company in 1997, talked about the history and opportunities attached to the project.
“I remember walking around the site with Andrew [Clarke] years ago, talking about what we could do here. It took a few more years than we thought, but we made it, and I feel so fortunate to get to work with so many great partners in one project,” Colas said.
This section of Vernon neighborhood is relatively quiet, especially when compared to the Alberta Arts District just a few blocks south. A block of small offices and restaurants like Podnah’s Pit and Seastar Bakery + Handsome’s Pizza face the site of the future apartments.
Neighborhood residents are welcoming, although some remain skeptical, said Lucas Gray of the Vernon Neighborhood Association.
“There are people worried about parking, but also a lot of people are happy to see a run-down vacant lot be turned into new retail spaces and apartments, bringing in some new opportunities to the area,” Gray said.
The project partners hope the building will open by fall 2016, in time for classes starting again at Concordia.
Find out more about the Transit-Oriented Development Program and other projects like this one