Ka-Boom in the Burbs
Retail development in suburbia challenges urban core
By Bridget Lynch

Just a few years ago, it was an abandoned rock quarry in Tualatin.

Today it is the epicenter of a retail boom in Southwest Portland that is causing ripples all over the metro area.

The first store at Bridgeport Village opened only a year ago but its presence has already made a significant impact on the Portland retail scene. It has spurred additional development in the area and had an effect on Portland-area retail centers. But what isn’t clear is the nature of that impact – is the growth in the suburbs helping or hurting downtown Portland?

Bridgeport Village is considered a “lifestyle center” meaning that it is an open-air shopping center with higher-end shops. It’s the new trend in mall design, moving away from the enclosed shopping mall model like Washington Square. The idea behind the “lifestyle center” movement in retail is to mimic the look of winding urban streets lined with shops and restaurants with different facades. In other words, it’s meant to look like a downtown retail district. However, the similarities end there.

Some of the problems associated with downtown Portland, like crime, aggressive panhandling and difficulty parking are not part of the picture at Bridgeport Village, says Jim Dix of Gray & Associates, the retail real estate leasing agency for Bridgeport Village and the newly announced developments Bridgeport Commons and The Pointe at Bridgeport.

“Downtown is not a family-oriented place. You don’t want to take your kids there.” Dix says. “People in the southwest quadrant don’t want to put up with it.”

The success of Bridgeport Village and the surrounding properties cannot help but work to the detriment of shopping downtown, Dix says.

“A lot of people perceive downtown as dangerous and don’t want to shop there,” says Julie Leuvrey, co-president of Oregon Pacific Capital Management, the developers of Bridgeport Commons. “It’s a sad thing. The explosion of retail in the suburbs is detrimental to downtown, absolutely.”

However, since Bridgeport is attracting retail shops that previously did not have a presence in Portland, including Crate and Barrel and The Container Store, some think that success in the suburbs could prompt retailers to open additional locations elsewhere, including downtown, says Mark New of New & Neville Real Estate Services.

“Downtown is the place to be,” New says. “It won’t be long until things come around again.” Downtown is trying to shake its bad reputation. In October, Portland Mayor Tom Potter announced a plan to allow police to go after aggressive panhandlers, prostitutes, drug dealers and large groups of young people who tend to congregate in the South Park Blocks.

“It is undeniable that our downtown in recent years has drawn a small but highly visible group who don’t respect Portland’s laws or its core value of respect for others,” Potter said in an October press conference. “While our downtown streets remain safe, some Portlanders now find it easier to avoid them altogether. This is not right. This is not acceptable. And it’s going to end.”

However, Doug Schmick, president and cofounder of McCormick’s Seafood Restaurants, believes downtown remains vibrant, at least for the restaurant industry.

Baby Boomers are moving out of the suburbs and back into downtown – look at the loft living in the Pearl District - and that is synergistically occurring with the opening of restaurants, Schmick says.

“Suburban development really became popular about seven or eight years ago but that is not necessarily at the expense of downtown,” Schmick says. “Personally, I don’t think the growth we are seeing now is detrimental to downtown.”

Schmick’s company opened M&S Grill in Bridgeport Village last year.

“It’s an ideal location,” he says. “But that doesn’t preclude the fact that downtown is still happening.”

More and more however, area shoppers are turning their attention to the suburbs.

“Bridgeport Village is one of the finest examples of a center of its kind in the country. It’s working and generating a tremendous amount of interest,” New says.

The success of Bridgeport Village made the land surrounding it prime for retail development, Leuvrey says. Her company is developing Bridgeport Commons, a 7.5- acre sight just down the street from Bridgeport Village. Though the project has been recently mired on controversy over the displacement of residents of a mobile home park, the project is slated to open in Fall 2006.

Just across Lower Boones Ferry Road, an 8 acre sight that housed the Schneider Trucking facility was bought by undisclosed developers who plan to build a mixed use development to include residential, retail and office space, says Mike Duyn, a commercial real estate developer with Macadam Forbes.

“That area has the strongest demographics in the state of Oregon,” Duyn says. In addition to shopping and restaurants in the area, work has recently begun on a new Whole Foods Market, a natural and organic foods supermarket, directly across the street from the Wild Oats located in Bridgeport Village.

Finally, at least for now, The Pointe at Bridgeport will stand at the corner of Bridgeport Road and 72nd Avenue, directly across the street from Bridgeport Village where a Shilo Inn presently stands. Demolition of the motel is slated for the end of the year.

The Pointe will have 12 to 15 tenants – primarily cafes and coffee shops with retail sprinkled in, says Dix, co-developer and leasing agent for the center.

“The demographics in that southwest quadrant are the best in probably the entire state,” Dix says. “People don’t have to travel to downtown to shop – it’s a natural.”

Dix feels so strongly about the strength of the Bridgeport area that he opened his first retail shop, Tutto Bene, an Italian café and gelato bar, at Bridgeport Village.

“I think that area hasn’t seen what it’s going to become,” Dix says.

BrainstormNW - November 2005

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