Palindrome Communities, in collaboration with Portland Development Commission, Portland Housing Bureau and Metro, is set to begin construction on Oliver Station, a 145-apartment project with two five-story buildings and an additional 29,565 square feet of retail space at Southeast 92nd Avenue and Foster Road.
“I think the neighborhood has been waiting a long time for something to happen,” said Chad Rennaker, president of Palindrome Communities. “When they start to see construction fences go up and buildings get knocked down, they’ll know it wasn’t just all talk.”
The $50 million project, is one of four upcoming projects by Palindrome Communities hopes to build in the Lents neighborhood.
The Oliver Station project is part of an urban renewal plan adopted by the Portland Development Commission in 1998. According to the commission’s website, the plan focuses on job generation, small business support and infrastructure improvement in order to promote vibrancy and community growth.
“It’s going to be one of the most visible projects in the town center,” said Leila Aman, a senior project manager at Portland Development Commission. “I think it’s going to send a real signal to both the community and to those outside, that things are happening here.”Oliver Station will have housing for people with a mix of incomes, with 120 of 145 units for households making up to 60 percent of area median income or $30,840 for a single person, $35,220 for a two-person household, or $39,600 for a three-person household. Another six units will serve households making up to 30 percent of area median income or $15,400 for a single person, $17,600 for a two-person household, or $19,800 for a three-person household. Rents for the 60 percent of AMI units will be $825 for one bedroom units and $990 for two-bedroom units. Rents for the 30 percent of AMI units will be $412 for the one-bedroom units and $495 for the two-bedroom units.
Rennaker’s vision to revitalize Lents began with Zoiglhaus Brewing Company, a family-friendly brewpub on Southeast 92nd Avenue, the neighborhood’s main street.
Oliver Station is replacing the New Copper Penny nightclub, a sprawling complex of stitched-together commercial buildings, many of them in poor repair.
“People are super excited – not because they hate the buildings themselves, they’ve just deteriorated to the point where there’s no coming back,” said Cora Potter, a Lents community advocate. “Even the historic part that was left, people didn’t feel much of a connection because you couldn’t really use it.”
With I-205 bisecting the neighborhood, Lents has long struggled with overcoming its label as a dangerous area. Palindrome’s efforts to simultaneously resurrect both the town center and the spaces throughout Lents is something Potter appreciates.
“They’re really looking at it in a big picture way, instead of ‘if I build this one building, can I sell it and make money off of it?’” Potter said.
With over $20 million in support from public agencies, Palindrome benefited from considerable financial help from the Portland Housing Bureau and the Development Commission. Metro’s assistance comes in the form of a $500,000 Transit-Oriented Development grant in order to promote increased opportunities for people to live, work, and shop in areas with high-quality transit services.
“The neighborhood has many strengths including an engaged community,” said Jon Williams, a senior project manager at Metro. “The neighborhood also has a great historic pedestrian shopping street, proximity to downtown Portland, access to I-205, and transit service via the light rail and frequent bus service.”
Oliver Station qualified for funding because of its construction technique that allows for two five-story buildings with ground floor retail space.
“The resulting buildings will be more durable, attractive and provide affordable opportunities for many more households,” said Williams. “Future residents will benefit the most.”
Rennaker says that working with city and Metro officials has been a great experience that has proven productive.
“Any obstacle that would come up, it was going to be resolved,” Rennaker said. “That’s a luxury and that’s something we should be proud of here in Portland.”
While several Oliver Station stakeholders maintain a positive outlook on the growth of Lents, Rennaker says it’s important for skeptics to look at the vision of those involved.
“The vision isn’t just one person, or a couple of people’s vision,” Rennaker added. “It takes a lot of parties to put their capital behind projects like this. There are a lot of studies, a lot of parties that have to believe in that vision.”
A new project of this scope, along with the others planned in Lents, brings with it concerns about displacement of existing renters drawn to the area’s relatively affordable rents. But Aman says that leaders are working to make sure current Lents residents are not driven out of the community.
“They want to make sure the people who live there can stay there, and that people who earn less than the area median income can also be there,” Aman said.
As Palindrome prepares to move forward, Rennaker says it’s important for people in the neighborhood to understand that Oliver Station is now part of the community too.
“This is our neighborhood too. We’re all neighbors,” Rennaker said. “We’re neighbors there for the long term, so our interests are aligned with theirs.”