Guide to the South Waterfront Neighborhood in Portland, Oregon
The South Waterfront, (SoWa as it is commonly called) the largest and most expensive redevelopment effort in Portland history, is transforming an abandoned industrial site along the Willamette River south of downtown into a high-rise neighborhood as dense as parts of Manhattan. Eventually, some 20 high-rise buildings will be built on the site. This includes medical offices and labs for Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU).
The Portland Development Commission (PDC) signed an agreement with OHSU and a group of waterfront property owners that cleared the way for construction of a 30 plus acre central district, which includes 3,000 residential units, one million square feet of office space, 150,000 square feet of retail and a hotel/conference center. If you desire to follow the progress of the development: South Waterfront. SoWa is not an official City of Portland neighborhood.
South Waterfront area has become the first urban neighborhood in the United States to achieve Salmon-Safe certification. Salmon-Safe’s certification of South Waterfront means that the area exceeds state and federal regulatory commitments to protect the Willamette River and its urban tributaries. Salmon-Safe is a Portland based nonprofit certification organization. The designation commits the neighborhood to sustain its environmental stewardship over time, including the district-wide elimination of pesticides that are harmful to salmon and other aquatic life.
In addition to South Waterfront, other Portland Salmon-Safe certified urban projects are the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, Nike, Portland State University, Portland Parks, Oregon Convention Center and Toyota at the Port of Portland. Salmon-Safe’s inspection team has certified more than 65,000 acres of farm and urban lands in Oregon and Washington, including 140 vineyards that represent a third of Oregon’s total vineyard acreage.
The SW Moody Project will reconstruct approximately 3,200 linear feet of SW Moody Avenue between SW River Parkway and SW Gibbs Street near the OHSU Tram. This project supports redevelopment of the 120-acre South Waterfront area which is part of Portland’s “Innovation Quadrant” slated to facilitate new job creation and provide access for people and goods. As the main access point to the South Waterfront Innovation Quadrant, SW Moody Avenue will be improved to include three traffic lanes, dual streetcar tracks, and pedestrian and bicycle facilities. The new construction will increase roadway capacity and introduce urban development standards such as fiber optic, sewer, stormwater and water infrastructure to support future development. This investment in roadway and streetcar facilities supports the Portland-Milwaukie Light Rail extension, “Close the Loop” streetcar line extensions, and the Portland to Lake Oswego streetcar line. Construction started in early 2011.
You can view a map of the area (Adobe PDF format). Note that SoWa is part of the South Portland neighborhood association but it has a character of its own so we included a separate profile for the neighborhood.
OHSU Center for Health and Healing
The first building, named The Center for Health & Healing (CHH), is a $150 million 16-story facility that was occupied in late 2006. The first two floors contain the March Wellness - a fitness center and health club. Four floors provide state-of-the art research space where OHSU scientists can create new knowledge and eight floors of the Center provide all types of patient care.
As riders of Portland's aerial tram descend Marquam Hill, the first feature they encounter in the new South Waterfront District is a two-story giant picture window looking in on basketball and volleyball courts at OHSU's new river campus. This is where you can discover, explore and realize your goals for a hearty and healthy life. Features of March Wellness include a lap pool, health coaching, aerobics, foreign language conversation groups, a gymnasium, meditation, financial health seminars, strength training, yoga, and healthy cooking classes.
The 50,000-square-foot center is open to OHSU's patients, students and faculty, but also to the public at rates competitive with the city's other major health clubs. The center is destined to become an important lure for the district's so-called "urban pioneers" - South Waterfront's first residents.
Collaborative Life Sciences Building Under Construction at South Waterfront
In October 2011, three of Oregon’s universities broke ground on a unique project that will combine the resources of these institutions. The OUS/OHSU Collaborative Life Sciences Building will place portions of Oregon Health & Science University, Oregon State University, and Portland State University under one roof. In doing so, the facility will extend partnerships between the universities, create new employment opportunities, and expand the schools’ teaching facilities, class sizes and research activities. The location of the building is between the Marquam Bridge and the Ross Island Bridge.
The 480,000-square-foot building will include lecture halls, classrooms, labs, specialty research centers, offices and a state-of-the-art facility for the OHSU School of Dentistry. The Collaborative Life Sciences Building will foster collaboration in undergraduate and graduate education between students and instructors from multiple institutions.
The Condos: Meriwether, John Ross and Atwater Place
In early 2006, the first buildings appeared along Portland's South Waterfront. Developers and city planners hope they won't entirely block the Mount Hood and river views for residents and passers-by on the west side of I-5.
It's a seemingly contradictory goal to build taller buildings yet make them less visible on the skyline. The concept used by planners, architects and activists is "permeability". This means the ability to see through the development, even if only intermittently. Permeability doesn't just mean protecting the view from a single lookout, it's about trying to avoid uniform rows or "canyons" of buildings, instead allowing sunlight, wind and a variety of view angles between towers. The permeability is trying to get at thinner buildings, buildings that aren't occupying an entire block. The issue of permeability focuses on ways to build with the same amount of square footage, but with a thinner profile.
These are the first condos buildings.
- Meriwether Towers The two Meriwether towers (245-units in double tower stretching 21 and 23 stories tall. The towers were occupied by the first South Waterfront residents in 2006.
- The John Ross The John Ross is the first to reach a 325-foot height maximum allowed in the South Waterfront area. The building was occupied in the summer of 2007.
- Atwater Place In Block 34, a 22-story, rectangular tower will feature 212 condominium units, five of which would be townhomes. The Atwater Place was completed in late 2007.
Another condo building called 3720 began construction in the spring of 2007 and the developers decide to convert it to an apartment building (The Adrea) when the condo market went sour before marketing the units. It consists of a 30-story tower and a five-story "side-car" structure, which together contain 323 units, for a total of 350,000 square feet of condominium space.
Mirabella: Continuing Care Retirement Community
OHSU and Medford-based Pacific Retirement Services (PRS) launched a partnership in January, 2007, to build a senior living community called the Mirabella that will put hundreds of prospective residents at its South Waterfront doorstep. PRS is building a 30-story senior living community that would offer a range of retirement living options, from apartments to nursing home level care. The arrangement will strengthen OHSU's relationship with Intel, OHSU officials said, as the two can work to develop devices and techniques aimed at making aging easier. The project was designed for LEED Platium certification. Residents started moving in in the fall of 2010.
Apartment buildings in South Waterfront:
- The Ardea The Ardea is a 30-story building that offers 323 apartment homes and 33 townhomes. It started out as the 3270 Condos but when the market for condos went sour, it was converted to apartments.
- The Emery The seven floor 118-unit Emery apartments — the unusual rust-colored exterior to the south of the Ross Island bridge — represents the Zidell Company’s first stab at redeveloping about 33 of the acres attached to its barge-making plant on the Willamette River. Rents at the Emery start at $2.22 per square foot, or $999 a month for a 450-square-foot studio unit and rise to about $3,000 a month for the largest units, with two bedrooms and two baths. The first tenants moved into the Emery at the end of September 2013. The Emery has five retail spaces along Moody. Lovejoy Bakery leased a 1,495-square-foot corner spot facing to the south.
- Gray's Landing This building was completed in late 2012. Gray’s Landing (previously known as “Block 49”) contains 209 housing units. Apartments are affordable to households earning 60% of Median Family Income ($30,660 for a single-person household). Forty two (42) of the apartments are targeted to low income veterans who have been homeless within the past two years. Cost of the building was $50.5 million.
- Matisse The building consists of two five-story apartment buildings at Southwest Lowell Street and Moody Avenue. The Matisse's 272 rental units are the first of 700 market-rated apartments called for in the Portland Development Commission's South Waterfront urban Central District Development agreement. It opened in 2010.
- Riva on the Park Atlanta-based real estate giant Trammell Crow Residential started work in the early Summer of 2007 on the first apartments in the South Waterfront area. This 22-story building is designed with a brick tower at the NW corner and a window-wall exterior that opens to the river views. The completed project has 314 apartments and three levels of structured parking. Riva on the Park includes a 28,000 square foot eco roof; a storm water sculpture; and a make-up air system to increase indoor air quality. The project achieve LEED Gold certification. At 22 stories, the 230-foot tower is the tallest apartment building built in Portland in about 40 years. It is slightly shorter than the twin Meriwether condo towers a block away. The building offers studios, one and two bedrooms, and penthouses..
Zidell Yards: 33-Acre Mixed-Use Community to be Developed
At one time, the South Waterfront was filled with heavy industrial companies helping the shipping industry. One of the last remaining is The Zidell Company. After 80 years of supporting the shipping trades, the company is taking some of it's property and redeveloping it. They announced this undertaking in the fall of 2012.
Zidell Yards will be a 33-acre mixed-use community consisting of 27 buildings, apartments, retail and corporation headquarters built over the next 10 to 15 years. The first building constructed is a 118-unit apartment building named the Emery in honor of Emery Zidell, the company's second generation head. According to the Zidell Yards Website, "The river is a universal draw and the Zidell family believes it should be celebrated and shared as a citywide gathering place. Small, creative firms to large corporate campus users are demanding buildings with character and soul, collaborative open space floor plans, and sustainable features. Buildings at the Yards, as well as the natural and urban environments that surround them, will resonate with the forward-thinking companies that share these values."
Parks and Health Clubs in the Neighborhood
The initial greenway parks master plan calls for $25 million in improvements to the Willamette Greenway. South Waterfront's greenway (along the river) is eventually supposed to run from the Marquam Bridge south to just beyond the Old Spaghetti Factory. The first phase will run from Gibbs Street to Lane Street and parallel to the area's first condo towers and includes trails and habitat view areas. The master plan for the first phase includes a pier and a kayak boat launch.
Elizabeth Caruthers Park is a 2.14 acre park that features an open lawn area for performances, an urban garden, boardwalks, a water feature, bike racks, public art and streetscape improvements. There is also a naturalized landscape with a storm water retention system. The park is named for Elizabeth Caruthers, one of the early settlers of Southwest Portland in the 1850s.
A cobblestone path to the river was completed when they constructed the Meriwether townhomes and it opens to an asphalt pathway along the river which is about 300 yards long. Connecting the path to the Gov. Tom McCall Waterfront Park to the north will not be easy as the path will have to cross over the Zidell Marine (shipbuilder) land plus other industrial land to the north of the marine. Connecting the trail to the Willamette Park to the south and to Gov. Tom McCall Waterfront Park in the north would mean bikers, runners, and walkers could travel about 4-5 miles along the west side of the Willamette River. The pathway would start at the Steel Bridge to the north and go all the way to the Sellwood Bridge to the south. Hopefully the planners have this in mind.
South Waterfront residents are able to have great views of the river if they face east. Looking across the river, strollers can view Ross Island, a refuge for wildlife and home to blue herons and bald eagles. The river also offers excellent canoeing and kayaking. Learn more at the River Renaissance Web site.
There are two health clubs in the neighborhood:
- March Wellness occupies the first two floors of the CHH building and it is open to both OHSU staff and the public. Besides the normal physical activities, March wellness offers foreign languages classes, nutrition cooking classes, etc.
- The RiverPlace Athletic Club is located about a half mile north of SoWa.
South Waterfront has a 2.12 acre park named after Elizabeth Caruthers, an early pioneer woman who was one of the first settlers in the southern part of the young city of Portland.
Aerial Tram Links OHSU Campuses
Linking OHSU's Marquam Hill Campus to its first building in the river blocks, the Portland's Aerial Tram transports researchers, students, medical professionals, patients and visitors between Portland's foremost medical institution and its newest development. The 3,300-foot tram extends from the main Marquam Hill campus to a terminus at Southwest Gibbs Street and Moody Avenue near the Willamette River. The Portland Aerial Transportation (PATI) is the private non-profit organization empowered by the City of Portland to oversee the design, construction, and operation of the Portland Aerial Tram.
On December 15, 2006, the Portland Aerial Tram began ferrying Oregon Health & Science University employees. To catch a free ride on one of the nickel-colored pods requires an OHSU employee badge.
Tram Fares Officials from the city of Portland and OHSU approved the fare of $4 in late January, 2007, for non OHSU staff and patients. The $4 fare is for a round trip. OHSU staff and patients can ride free. As a courtesy, OHSU is paying the cost of the tram ride for its patients who have appointments at OHSU, and also for individuals who are visiting patients in OHSU Hospital or Doernbecher Children's Hospital. The city projects 85 percent of the tram's 1,540 daily riders will be OHSU-related. Other points:
- Offer free rides for annual and monthly TriMet and streetcar pass holders.
- Offer a $4 round trip fare for people without passes.
- Sell $100 annual tram passes that would be valid on the streetcar but not buses or light rail.
Final Cost of the Tram The final cost of the tram came to almost $57 million with the public paying about eight and a half million dollars. The budget includes contingencies and utility relocations along with street trees and streetlights on Southwest Gibbs Street. Key neighborhood improvements included a pedestrian bridge over I-5. The annual cost to run the tram is about $1.6 million. As part of the proposal, OHSU agreed to pay 85 percent of the tram's operating cost for the first five years. OHSU had originally agreed to pay 85 percent of the cost for the first two years.
The poster displayed above is available for purchase from ErrolGraphics along with other tram merchandise. Local artist Craig Holmes created the poster.
Video of the Tram.
Streetcars Links Northwest District and Downtown to South Waterfront
The streetcar extension into the South Waterfront connects the new community to the museums, theatres, and restaurants in the downtown area. The line from downtown now stops at the base of the Aerial Tram (called the Gibbs Extension).
The line will continue from the Aerial Tram with a 0.6 mile extension (called the Lowell Extension) that connects SW Moody and Gibbs, follows SW Moody south to SW Lowell, east on SW Lowell to SW Bond. The route continues north on SW Bond to SW Moody & Gibbs. The Portland Streetcar started construction on the Lowell Extension in August of 2006, with completion scheduled for early summer 2007. Start-up of operations is scheduled for August 2007.
In continuous operation since 2001, the Portland Streetcar links the Northwest District (Nob Hill) neighborhood to Portland State University through the heart of downtown. Download the route map. Learn more about the project at Portland Streetcars.
Footbridge to Link Lair Hill Neighborhood with South Waterfront
Work was started in early 2011 on a new bridge over Interstate 5 that will provide South Portland’s Lair Hill neighborhood with improved pedestrian and bicycle access to the developing South Waterfront District. The $13 million Gibbs Street Pedestrian Bridge will span about 700 feet and run from the intersection of Southwest Gibbs Street and Kelly Avenue on the east side to the intersection of Southwest Gibbs Street and Moody Avenue on the west − directly below the Oregon Heath and Science University aerial tram.
The bridge will dovetail with other work on the South Waterfront, including the grading of Moody Avenue to align it with a new transit, pedestrian and bike bridge that will be part of the Portland to Milwaukie light rail. It will also help residents access OHSU’s planned Schnitzer Campus, which the university plans to build on a 26 acre parcel it owns in the South Waterfront District.
The vision for that area and the South Waterfront is that the north end will mostly be the Schnitzer Campus, with classrooms and educational research. The central district will be housing, the new Elizabeth Caruthers Park and residential neighborhoods, and the south district I think is still sort of yet to be determined. Another goal for the area and the bridge is to eventually connect the Lair Hill neighborhood to the Willamette Greenway Trail as it extends along the river.
South Waterfront Greenway
In 2004, developers proposed constructing a stretch of greenway along the Willamette River in Portland’s South Waterfront District. Seven years later, following difficult remediation of one of the city’s more polluted riverbanks, the project is approaching the construction phase. Portland Parks and Recreation plans to select a construction manager/general contractor for the South Waterfront Greenway by May 2011 so that building permits and design reviews can be completed in time for in-water work next year.
The first phase of the project includes construction of a five-block-long mix of lawn, park and plaza areas along the Willamette River between Southwest Gibbs Street and Lane Street. Below the green space, which will have separate paths for bikes and pedestrians, a 25,000-square-foot gravel beach will provide improved fish habitat. The plan calls for eventually creating 100-foot-wide parks along the river for 1.2 miles between the Marquam Bridge and an existing trail at Johns Landing.
The project’s total cost, which includes a 10 percent contingency for unexpected construction issues, is now $8.1 million; construction is $4.8 million.
More About South Waterfront
South Waterfront is not an official City of Portland neighborhood as it is part of the Corbett-Terwilliger-Lair Hill (officially called South Portland). Lying at the north end of the Corbett-Terwilliger-Lair Hill, South Waterfront doesn't fit into the designated neighborhood association as it looming high-rise buildings are so different from the townhomes, 2-3 story condos, and detached single family homes in the rest of the neighborhood. Once South Waterfront has a few thousand residents, we are certain it will have its own official neighborhood.
- Neighborhood Association The South Waterfront does not have a Web site but you can find information about the neighborhood at the South Waterfront Web site. You can also subscribe to their monthly e-Newsletter by clicking here.
- Location Just south of downtown along the Willamette River.
- Drive Time to Downtown About 5-7 minutes to Pioneer Square in the heart of downtown.
- Topography Flat and barren of trees and greenery except along the river. The Elizabeth Caruthers park does have some planted trees and shrubs as well as some streets have planted trees.
- Sidewalks and Streets Sidewalks are in place except in the construction areas. Limited street parking but parking garages and parking lots exist and more are planned.
- Public Transportation The Portland streetcar line runs through the South Waterfront. Transit Score provides a 0-100 rating indicating how well an address is served by public transportation. Ratings range from "Rider's Paradises" to areas with limited or no nearby public transportation.
- Demographics Population: About 3,000 as of early 2012 but we do not have accurate numbers. Area size: 38 acres. Number of households in the first three condos (Atwater, Meriwether, and John Ross): 723.
- Sex Offenders Click here for the State of Oregon Sex Offender Inquiry System. After agreeing to the "Conditions of Use Statement" you will be redirected to a "Enter Search Criteria" page. Insert a zip code in the "Zip" field and click on the "Query" button. South Waterfront zip code: 97239.
- Shopping and Services A mini-mart, Urbana, is open for business in the west Meriwether tower along with a cleaners. All the condos have retail space build on the first floor and residents can expect to see shops and services available. The closest food stores for groceries is Whole Foods in the Pearl (close to the streetcar line) and Safeway downtown. Another choice is Zupan's on Macadam Avenue. Umpqua Bank opened their first Innovation Lab in the John Ross in the fall of 2007. Many other shops and services are available along Macadam Avenue to the south.
- Farmers Market Every Tuesday at the Elizabeth Caruthers Park beginning in May through early October 1:00 pm - 6:00 pm. Call 503-972-3289 for more information.
- Eating Out City Cafe, a full service eating place is located in the OHSU CHH building. City Cafe has another outlet in the Pearl District. Also available in the center is a coffee shop. Le Hana, a Japanese French Grill, opened in the summer of 2007 in the Meriwether Tower - they also have a restaurant in Hillsboro. Bella Espresso, a coffee shop, also opened in the summer of 2007. Orupa, serving continental European Cuisine is ready to begin operations in early 2008. Spaghetti Factory is a short walk to the south. You will have to walk (or take the streetcar) a few blocks north along the river to the RiverPlace area to find a wider variety of restaurants. Or take the streetcar line to downtown where you have all kind of cafes, bistros, and restaurants.
- Public Library Hop on the streetcar and travel downtown to 801 SW 10th Avenue where you will find the Multnomah County Central Library.
- Who Lives in South Waterfront A combination of staff members from OHSU, a few OHSU students, young folks who want to be close to downtown, and empty nesters who like condo living.
- What They Drive in South Waterfront This is one neighborhood where ownership of an automobile is not necessary as the streetcar line makes it easy to travel downtown. Many of the OHSU staff and students ride their bikes to work and class. Many of the students and staff that work or attend class on the hill find it easier to park in the lower campus and take the tram up to the hill. Since the condos offer underground parking, the garages are full of hybrids and luxury autos.
Homes for Sale in South Waterfront
Fly to the South Waterfront Neighborhood via Google Earth
45° 29′ 49.32″ N
122° 40′ 13.93″ W