Portland Business Journal I February 13, 2015
Developers in Portland often walk a delicate line between what they have in mind for their projects and what neighbors have in mind, too. Patrick Kessi, founder of PHK Development, has been through the process a few times himself now.
Kessi is the developer behind Lake Oswego’s Wizer Block, a controversial development that drew three nights of standing-room only testimony before the city council and that is currently before the state Land Use Board of Appeals. He also developed the Thurman Street Lofts and the 937 Condominiums in Portland’s Pearl District and just revealed plans for a seven-story apartment building in Sullivan’s Gulch.
Kessi’s latest completed project is the Marvel 29 in St. Johns. In a guest column for the Business Journal, Kessi shares some thoughts on his approach to working with community members to bring his projects to fruition.
For me, our Marvel 29 project in St. Johns is like coming home. I started my real estate career when I was attending the University of Portland. I lived close by as a university student, then as a young adult, and then as a father. People in the St. Johns community have a sense of connection; a sense of belonging; a sense of the neighborhood as an anchor. Our company didn’t just view the location of Marvel 29 as a “space.” We want all our buildings to belong. We spent a great deal of time at the front end analyzing the local neighborhoods, looking for a connection with the surroundings and planning for a future with the neighborhoods to help meet the needs of this evolving community.
At the beginning of our planning and years before we moved the first dirt, our company turned to residents, business owners and the St. Johns Main Street Coalition for their input. Our purpose was to be a quiet leader in the resurgence of St. Johns by blending expansion with the small town spirit which the current residents value and rightly want to retain.
The copper spires of the suspension bridge are a source of pride to the community and we built panels of patina copper into the exterior to pay homage to this grand bridge. We tested names on the neighbors and the name Marvel 29 resulted from feedback – a marvel (the bridge) and 29 (the atomic number in the periodic table of elements for the copper that make up the bridge’s spires). Two mature linden trees are present at the entrance to the bridge and the neighborhood associations wanted them retained. Through tree protection, modification to the structural design and shoring assembly we saved those mature trees.
Local groups were outspoken about traffic impact caused by increased density. We addressed those concerns by adding a one-level underground parking structure with 131 resident parking spaces, far exceeding code requirements. The building had to fit in with two active streets. Our solution lay in a partial façade that makes prominent use of brick to blend with nearby historic structures. The building contains side by side live-work spaces and ground level retail on those active streets. Protecting the environment and sustainability at Marvel 29 were common goals of both our company and the community. The building is built with the goal of receiving LEED Platinum status.
As we worked with the businesses and neighborhoods and studied the history of St. Johns, the concept for the interior spaces developed and led us to local talent and local materials. The club lounge with gourmet kitchen, dining tables and a fireplace, the landscaped central courtyard with fire pit and grilling stations and the roof top terrace with mountain, river and bridge views provide gathering spaces that echo the sense of belonging so evident in the community. Most of the artwork in the building is local and many of the building finishes were sourced locally. Decorative metal screens inspired by the bridge and dry docks are by local artists and St. Johns’ industrial shipping history is strongly reflected throughout the inside of Marvel 29.
We sponsored local events, including participating in the local Clean Sweep, where students from the University of Portland joined community members on service projects, including landscaping work, tree well improvements and garbage clean-up. Recently Marvel 29 sponsored a grant, designed to maintain the spirit of St. Johns and fuel economic development for small local business. The community contributed and voted for the business they felt embodied the spirit of the neighborhood. We matched every dollar donated up to $1,500. The total grant to the winning business was over $3,200.
All concepts evolve and eventually develop from an original idea to a final project. Communities can be key to that process. No one has a lock on good ideas, and many great suggestions came from the people of St. Johns. My team shapes the structures, but people give them life and the greater St. Johns community and the St. Johns Main Street Coalition made this a collaborative design that has resulted in today’s Marvel 29.
We look forward to being a great neighbor and to being part of a long term resurgence of this area.