UPDATED 11/16/2011

Last Thursday, August 25, consultants and architects joined Craig Boretz, vice-president of corporate development for Con-way, to present to city planners and bureau heads their vision to redevelop nearly 15 acres of Con-way-owned Slabtown properties as a destination for employers, residents and consumers.

Boretz and his advisors are hoping to work with planners at the Bureau of Development Services (BDS) to change the zoning in the Northwest District's master plan from central employment to a zoning category that would allow mixed-use development. Those might include multi-story residential buildings, office buildings, space for ground-floor retailers and open plazas and public parks, which would span 10 block-long parcels of land that stretches roughly north, from Pettygrove Street to Thurman Street, and east, from 22nd Avenue to 19th Avenue.

However, Boretz indicates that Con-way, the international freight and logistics company with corporate offices in Portland's historic Slabtown neighborhood, will not, in fact, develop the area.

"I want to make it clear: we're just the land owner, we're not the developer," Boretz says. "Our objective, really, is to sell off parcels a bit at a time...and do it in accordance with the overall master plan. 

"If any of you have been out there, it's just a wasteland of parking and some old rundown buildings," he pauses, jokingly, "except for the ones that we occupy, which are nice." 

Some of the empty space and old buildings on the Conway property.
Con-way's wasteland of parking and old rundown buildings.

Boretz says he plans on keeping Con-way where it is. It's the land south of it that he says he'd like to see enhanced with neighborhood amenities such as grocery markets and sustainably envisioned apartment buildings. Boretz believes such developments will not only inspire current and potential Con-way employees to populate Slabtown, but will also attract new businesses and the future workers those businesses will employ.

However, the most critical element of locking in a new master plan may be timing. Both Boretz and Con-way representative Phillip Beyl, a principal architect at GDB Architects, say they'd ultimately like the master plan to be locked in by early next year, so that they can assure future developers that the zoning and massing have been dialed in. If their proposal is favored by BDS and city bureaus, Boretz and Beyl say that Con-way can begin constructing an underground lot for an estimated 600 of Con-way's commuting employees. That will in turn free up the surface lot those employees are currently using for future development.

Beyl also says that by locking in their proposal to change the zoning in the master plan, potential developers will have a better idea as to how much and how high they can build on a given parcel, which will allow them to better assess the properties that most interest them.

"Because we are a 'speculative' development, we don't know what each developer will propose on each given parcel," says Beyl. "It's going to be very difficult for us to be very specific about what goes where."

The conway master plan boundary.
The Con-way master plan boundary. Rendering: GDB Architects

The vision behind the proposal, Boretz says, has been in the works for roughly five years. And he praises the leaders of the Northwest District Neighborhood Association, with whom he's been meeting each week for the past several years to determine how Con-way can get the most bang for the developmental buck, while also maintaining a neighborhood that the NWDA's residents will want to continue living in. (An example of the NWDA's vision appears here.)

In the coming weeks, Con-way's representatives will be meeting with BDS planners and NWDA leaders to discuss how best to move forward.

BDS planner Tim Heron says he's encouraged that Con-way wishes to develop the parcels under the city's existing standards and to hew closely to the NWDA's master plan.

"It's very exciting, I'm tickled to be a part of it," he says. "We don't need to recreate the wheel on this one, I think we might add some spokes."

UPDATE 11/16/2011: "Con-way Inches Closer to Slabtown Redevelopment"
By Chad Walsh, NeighborhoodNotes.com