6 Big Development Projects to Watch In Portland and Beyond This Fall

Kah-Nee-Ta gears back up, PAM CUT's getting a new home, the Vancouver Waterfront is getting a new hotel, and more.

By Julia Silverman September 1, 2022

Checking in on six under-development projects, from PAM CUT’s new home on SE Division to Kah-Nee-Ta hot springs resort.

Temperatures in Oregon might still be in the 90s, but the kids are back in school, Halloween candy displays are out at your local grocery store, and soon enough, there will be a fall-is-coming snap in the air. So it’s time again to shake off the summer languor, and check on some long-in-the-works projects around town and beyond for a status update. What’s moving forward, what’s stuck in place, what’s up next? Let’s find out. 

The news hit like a bit of a thunderbolt last winter: the beloved Kah-Nee-Ta hot springs resort, which has been closed since 2018, was planning to reopen. Back then, representatives of the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs said they planned to reopen the storied resort in 2023, expanding its hot springs, pool, motel and RV lodging areas. Details are still sparse, but according to a new website, the goal is to open by summer 2023, so it’s safe to say things are moving along with the multimillion-dollar remodel plans. Jim Souers, the CEO of the Warm Springs Economic Development Corporation, says further updates are rolling out this month; stay tuned. 

Also hoping for a summer 2023 opening, barring any unforeseen construction delays: the new home for PAM CUT, the new moniker for the formerly Portland Art Museum–based NW Film Center. (CUT stands for Center for an Untold Tomorrow.) It’s taking over the space on SE Division Street that was formerly home to the Oregon Theater, the last adult film theater left standing in all of Portland before its closure a few years back. The building is being gut-renovated by Guerrilla Development, the firm behind some of Portland’s most thought-provoking structures. Previously, the space had room for a 400-seat theater; that will be reconfigured, says PAM spokesperson Ian Gillingham, to make room for “different kinds of experiences, like multimedia and experiential offerings.” (As an example, he cites the upcoming exhibit Symbiosis, opening in November and described as “a fully sensory extended reality storytelling experience,” that involves, “haptic suits, soft-robotics, VR audio, and visual and taste and smell-based story elements for each participant.”) Sounds futuristic and befitting of the name that the revamped space will bear upon completion: the Tomorrow Theater. But those who are nostalgic for the theater’s past as a porn palace can take comfort in knowing that current though subject-to-change design plans call for some throwback touches—think mattresses as décor and bordello-purple paint. 

A car-free trail that snakes between the northern Oregon coast and the metro area has long been a favored, fevered dream of outdoorsy types. The 87-mile long Salmonberry Trail is still pretty much just that; the route that starts in Banks and ends in Tillamook has been abandoned ever since a giant storm destroyed the railroad tracks upon which the Port of Tillamook Bay railroad used to run, back in 2007. In all that time—15 years!—only a half-mile stretch of the trail has been formally converted for use by pedestrians and cyclists, and during the pandemic efforts stagnated. But there’s some hope on the horizon for trail die-hards: the Salmonberry Trail Foundation is searching for a new executive director (salary of between $90,000 and $110,000 a year, depending on experience). The job's charge: “Marshall the resources to fund and build an 87-mile non-motorized, multi-use trail … from the valley to the coast.” Keep the faith!  

The Oregon Museum of Science and Industry is already a destination—a school field trip magnet, an I-MAX movie mecca, a submarine enthusiast’s dream. Now the museum is poised to anchor an entire district in its Central Eastside neighborhood, with mixed-use developments, including institutional, commercial, retail, and residential uses, along with a new greenspace developed in consultation with local tribes. When we last wrote about this proposal in late 2021, the museum had just debuted renderings of its plans—but now it is actually moving through the design review process, a key step on the way to securing public funding, should the city go that route, and to breaking actual ground. It’s not a cheap prospect. Infrastructure costs to improve roads and utilities could top $120 million. Asks like this take time to work their way through city government, but the wheels are turning. Next up: a second go in front of the Portland Design Commission, tentatively scheduled for October. 

Vancouver, Washington, has historically been in both Portland’s shadow and the other, better-known Vancouver’s, too, but the city has been making its own waves of late with its spiffy waterfront developments, including an outpost of Maryhill Winery, and a high-concept milkshake bar born on Shark Tank. Next up: the 138-room Indigo Hotel opens September 1; even more new housing and retail is in the works. Another goal is to further connect the Columbia River–adjacent waterfront with the city’s downtown core, via a network of public plazas and new development, including set-asides for affordable housing. Dubbing the area the Waterfront Gateway district, the city is currently looking for feedback from residents.  

We can’t mention Vancouver—or finish any story about development—without a check-in on the I-5 replacement bridge, also known as Portland’s white whale. After literal decades of fits and starts, there’s yet again momentum behind replacing the currently creaky crossing between Oregon and Washington. Local governments have signed off on a working plan, and there’s federal money available. Washington state says it is willing to commit up to a billion dollars, but will Oregon pony up its share? That’s for the 2023 legislature to consider when they meet in January—and whoever Oregon’s next governor is will definitely have something to say about this, too, including whether the next incarnation of the bridge will include space for light rail, bicycles, and pedestrians.