Orenco Station: Westward Expansion

A 20-year dream that this onetime nursery workers’ village would become a small city next to the MAX line is nearly fulfilled.

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

It’s Friday night at Orenco Taphouse. The Blazers are beating the Nuggets. Owners Dirk and Tammy Baker’s 20 draft brews flow into pint glasses, pitchers, and growlers. On the apartment-lined surrounding streets, parking is so tight that a towing company prowls. A 20-year dream that this onetime nursery workers’ village would become a small city next to the MAX line is nearly fulfilled. 

In recent months, hundreds of new apartments have filled with tenants, most of them 30-somethings working at nearby companies like Intel and Salesforce. NW Housing Alternatives just christened 56 new units for seniors. And of the 1,157 apartments now under way or planned for Orenco, 57 will be in the Orchards, projected as the largest über-energy-efficient “Passive House” development in the US—all for people making $30,000 or less. New businesses include a Lebanese restaurant and a bike shop. Soon, a 24-hour coffee shop will caffeinate the locals. A boutique hotelier is eyeing one of the neighborhood’s last empty parcels.  

Back in 1998, Vice President Al Gore hopped the light rail to Orenco on the first public day of Westside MAX rides, extolling the vision for a region “where beauty is appreciated, and people recognize that traffic jams are no fun.” As Intel proceeds with a massive expansion—this winter, the company had 10 construction cranes swinging over its Hillsboro campus—slated to add 1,000 jobs to the local workforce, investors see big returns in housing. Vancouver, Washington’s Holland Group built one of Orenco’s new buildings, has three more in progress, and, with a few incentives from the city and Metro, happily deeded four acres for a neighborhood park and will soon build a new plaza next to Orenco’s MAX station. 

Nearby Cornell Road remains clogged with Gore’s “no fun.” But Hillsboro’s planning director, Colin Cooper, cheerily notes that Orenco will soon be served on nine-minute intervals by TriMet buses, plus Intel’s own new shuttle. The chipmaker is also prototyping a bike share for its campus, with Orenco in line to get the system’s first external trial. Cooper proudly claims that Orenco might even have an edge over Portland in at least some eyes: for every new apartment, there is at least one parking space. 

“It’s a little eerie to see it all come together,” says Dirk Baker in between pulling pints at the tap house. He and Tammy moved nearby in 1999 when he went to work at Intel (still his day job). “It takes great vision to want to make this kind of neighborhood in the suburbs.”

Editor's note: The original version of this story mistakenly portrayed late 1990s sales of  homes in Orenco Station's first-phase development as poor. They quickly sold out.

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