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7-29-01, The Tennessean

PORTLAND, ORE., POLISHES ITS GULCH INTO PEARL

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By RICHARD LAWSON
Staff Writer

PORTLAND, Ore. — On a chilly, drizzly afternoon, crowds of people mill around Pioneer Courthouse Square.

Despite the weather, there is energy. Some are waiting to catch a bus or one of the city's light commuter trains that regularly pass next to the square. Others are tourists checking out the sights. Still others are shoppers on their way to the next store.

The square is surrounded by office buildings, hotels, restaurants and shopping that features Nordstrom and Saks Fifth Avenue department stores.
This is the heart of a vibrant downtown that city leaders have fostered for a decade or more through intensely planned redevelopment efforts that focused on ensuring dense urban growth.

About 2,350 miles away, those who share a similar dream for Nashville's core have taken notice.

Advocates of urban development in Nashville and elsewhere point to cities such as Portland as guides for their efforts. Through a Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce inter-city visit five years ago, city and business leaders grabbed a first-hand look.

''Portland is a really well-done city,'' said Metro Planning Director Rick Bernhardt, who praised the city's public transportation system. ''They have focused on building a city that is highly livable.''

He said some of what Portland has done is transferable to Nashville and some isn't.

The Nashville Urban Venture singles out the Pearl District, one of Portland's hottest redevelopment areas, as an example of its plans for the railroad gulch at the western edge of Nashville's downtown.

Sitting in Portland's River District, an urban renewal area, the Pearl District is a 20-block stretch of old rail yards and warehouses along the Willamette River that bisects the city. Redevelopment includes new construction and renovation of existing buildings that are filled with offices, cafés and condominiums.
The district's growth is being fueled by a $56 million streetcar system that began operation last weekend. Streetcar lines run a loop through downtown that starts in the district.

Rich Ford, a Portland real estate broker and developer, estimated that about $300 million has been invested in the area during the past dozen years.
With Portland in mind, Nashville's gulch developer is creating a master plan to guide development of commercial and residential development in a 30-acre area, an effort that is expected to take 10 years and a $400 million investment. The venture already controls 22 acres and is attempting to acquire the remaining property.

As in Nashville, public-private partnerships have steered Portland's redevelopment. The Portland Development Commission, similar to the Metropolitan Development and Housing Agency in Nashville, bought property near the Pearl District in the 1980s to initiate revitalization. It has invested $100 million.

Portland developers credit the city's redevelopment success to an attitude about planning and design that focuses on urban growth.

''It's all about good planning,'' said Robert Ball, who is converting a 90-year-old Pearl District warehouse into loft condominiums. ''This has worked for a lot of years because of a lot of planning.''

Next: Striking Similarities