North Pearl: Going Up?

The Pearl District's north end is shaping up to house some of the tallest housing projects in Portland history.

By Randy Gragg April 2, 2014 Published in the April 2014 issue of Portland Monthly

Developer: Hoyt Street Properties
Architect: Boora
Live: 168 condos
Shop: 6,866 square feet
Parking: 197 cars/254 bikes
Probability: Medium-high

Even if all eight residential buildings planned for the area known as the North Pearl are built, longtime neighborhood advocate Patricia Gardner thinks the neighborhood still won’t add enough units. “Each leaves three or four floors on the table,” she says of sizes the developers could build to, but are choosing not to. “Together, that’s a whole building not being built.” 

When the PDC first created the River District Urban Renewal Area (now more commonly known as the Pearl District) in 1994, it envisioned 5,500 apartments, condos, and town houses. As of 2013, 9,085 units had been built, most in buildings six stories or shorter. But as the district marched north of NW Lovejoy Street, the city—with the Pearl District Neighborhood Association’s blessing—completely removed height limits. “We wanted to embrace urbanity,” says Gardner. 

Among the results: two planned buildings that hark back to the towering days of Portland’s first urban renewal area—the 1950s’ South Auditorium District—and to the so-called “point towers” of Vancouver, British Columbia. 

Not everyone is pleased. In a September 2013 Oregonian op-ed, “livability” advocates Michael Mehaffy and Suzanne Crowhurst Leonard broadly blasted any impulse to build upward, invoking the “tower envy” of skyscraping cities like Dubai. They lambasted Portland’s high-rise ambitions for everything from demanding more energy for construction to threatening historic buildings with rising land prices. “But perhaps most significant,” they wrote, “tall buildings isolate people in ‘vertical gated communities,’ away from the vitality of the street.” Either way, gone are the Pearl District’s quaint days, when a mere 120 condos might be stacked just six stories high around one of the graciously landscaped courtyards that became the neighborhood’s signature. Hoyt Street Properties’ proposed Block 15, where 168 condos will rise in a slender 340-foot tower, will be the tallest housing project in Portland history. Mill Creek’s 1420 Pearl will pack 269 apartments into a hefty eight-story building. 

To some Portlanders, these buildings may seem big. But not to Gardner. “I have had the fortune of traveling a lot and living in many cities,” she says. “I look at Portland, and I see a town that is relatively short.”

The Parker

Developer: Evergreen Galway/Astor Pacific
Architect: FFA
Live: 177 apartments
Parking: 165 cars
Probability: Under construction
Architecture: Art deco seance 

The Abigail

Developer: Bridge Housing
Architect: Ankrom Moisan
Live: 143 affordable apartments
Parking: 81 cars/258 bikes
Probability: High
Architecture: Utilitarian verve

1420 Pearl 

Developer: Mill Creek Residential
Architect: Sera
Live: 269 apartments
Parking: 200 cars/438 bikes
Probability: High
Architecture Like a football lineman on a basketball team


Developer: Fore Property, Las Vegas
Architect: Robert Leeb
Live: 243 apartments
Parking: 236 cars
Probability: Under construction
Architecture: Basic basic

Block 17

Developer: Hoyt Street Properties
Architect: Boora 
Live: 281 apartments
Work: None
Shop: None
Parking: 210 cars
Probability: High
Architecture: Massiveness writ small


The Overton

Developer: Unico, Seattle
Architect: ZGF Partnership
Live: 285 apartments
Work: 6 live/work units
Shop: One small retail space
Parking: 233 cars
Probability: High
Architecture: ‘60s Seattle comes to the Pearl.

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