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Portland’s Central Eastside: A Regional Employment Center

A variety of enterprises makes the area one of the city's largest employment districts

The Central Eastside (CES) is home to more than 1,100 businesses and 17,000 jobs — more than any other district in the Central City outside of the downtown core. Industrial uses and creative businesses sit side-by-side, as the area becomes an emerging location for cross-industry exchange, from film and digital enterprises to food, creative services and craft industries.

While employment in other Central City areas decreased during the recent economic downturn, jobs increased in this district — in part because of a growing presence of traded sector industries. As it has evolved, the CES has become more attractive to a variety of businesses, outperforming its fellow employment districts thanks to a unique collection of historic industrial buildings, space affordability and centralized location near Portland’s business core.

To support continued economic development in the area, the City of Portland has made substantial public investments in multi-modal transportation infrastructure, such as light rail, streetcar, and bike and pedestrian facilities. The Portland-Milwaukie Light Rail (PMLR) line, opening in 2015, includes two stations within the district next to several larger redevelopment opportunity sites, which could accommodate growth of existing businesses or attract new industries and employment to the district.

Employment Sectors

The 1,000+ businesses in the district fall into several key employment sectors. Some of these, such as warehousing and distribution, reflect the earliest industrial users of the district. Other businesses represent the changing and evolving face of industry, such as film production, software development and web-based industries.

While different, these various sectors and businesses are all attracted to the Central Eastside, whether for its central location, building stock or proximity to nearby industrial businesses in the area. The Central Eastside provides an ideal location for this unique mix to establish and grow.

Warehousing and distribution businesses first made this district, once known as Produce Row, Portland’s center for industrial activity. Over time some businesses have “outgrown” the district; the small block or grid pattern that characterizes most of the district, as well as transportation constraints associated with the city center, can make large scale production and freight mobility challenging.

Yet there are many businesses that depend on a centralized location for their customer base and reliable access to the regional transportation system — but can operate in smaller locations. For these enterprises, the CES is an attractive location.

Manufacturing has long been a major industrial sector within the Central Eastside. Wood and metal fabricators, as well as tool and equipment manufacturers, have populated the district since its inception, and many still exist today.

However, a manufacturing revolution is currently underway in the district, characterized by small businesses making specialty goods in modest spaces with advanced technologies. The manufacturing sector also includes businesses that specialize in food preparation, brewing, distilling, and bicycle manufacturing and repair. For instance, a building that may once have been used by a single metal fabrication company now contains several enterprises specializing in industrial design. They manufacture their concepts onsite, using traditional techniques as well as advanced manufacturing tools, such as 3D printing.

Although the scale and types of businesses are rapidly evolving, the Central Eastside remains an important center for Portland’s manufacturing sectors.

Industrial service businesses generally serve other industrial and business sectors within the district, as well as the Central City. Examples include companies that supply parts, provide specialized services for manufacturing processes or do equipment maintenance.

Industrial service providers have a large customer base within the district that depends on easy access to their services. For instance, a number of construction companies within the Central Eastside have easy access to multiple businesses that supply building materials and construction equipment. This allows contractors to quickly get to the supplies and equipment they depend on, saving them time and money.

Knowledge-based and design businesses, including film, advertising, software development, architecture, engineering and industrial design firms, are increasingly calling the Central Eastside home. They are attracted to the open flexible workspaces that support collaboration between employees and can easily be tailored to their needs.

Some choose the district for the old warehouses, which offer space for sound stages required for filming. Architects, engineers and other designers want to be close to their client base within the district, and the area offers spaces where they can both design and manufacture prototypes. Others find that the buildings provide a level of flexibility that accommodates their specific requirements. And some are simply attracted to the gritty urban character inherent to the district.

Whatever their reason for choosing the Central Eastside, design and knowledge-based businesses are becoming a major presence in the district. There is growing interest in attracting more of these types of businesses to the district as a way of increasing employment opportunities. The key, however, will be to provide for this rapidly evolving sector in ways that are compatible with long-standing and more traditional industrial users of the district.

This is the third installment of a blog series aimed at exploring the past, present, and future of the Central Eastside. To learn more about the opportunities that exist in the Central Eastside and the planning efforts for the district, read the Central Eastside Reader and visit the SE Quadrant Plan calendar to learn about future events.

West Quadrant Plan News: May SAC Meeting Split in Two Parts

Revised district drafts require more time for committee members to consider and discuss

West Quadrant Plan Meeting 12To provide adequate time for public comment and meaningful Stakeholder Advisory Committee (SAC) discussion on the revised district drafts, the May 19 West Quadrant Plan SAC meeting has been split in two parts. Part one will be held on Monday, May 19; part two on Monday, June 2. Both meetings are open to the public, and time for public comment is scheduled.  

A single materials packet will be used for both meetings, available online by May 10. Agenda items for each meeting include:

Monday, May 19 Meeting

  • Follow up issues related to the Old Town/Chinatown and South Downtown/University drafts discussed at the April meeting
  • West End Revised Draft

 Monday, June 2 Meeting

  • Downtown Revised Draft
  • Pearl District Revised Draft
  • South Waterfront Revised Draft

After those two meetings, the regularly scheduled Monday, June 16 meeting will be used to respond to follow-up issues from May 19 and June 2, as well as to introduce a draft complete West Quadrant Plan.

If you have questions about the meetings, please contact Kathryn Hartinger at (503) 823-9714 or kathryn.hartinger@portlandoregon.gov.   

Portland’s Central Eastside: A Rich History of Economic Prosperity

Exploring the evolution of the Central Eastside through time

History and Timeline

The Central Eastside has been an important part of Portland’s economy since the city’s earliest settlement.

Originally settled in 1845 as part of a 640-acre land claim, the area was once largely planted with orchards and hay. At the time, the east bank of the river was dominated by marshes, creeks and sloughs, making development near the river’s edge difficult and requiring streets in the area to be built upon an expansive series of trestles.

In 1869 the East-Side Oregon Central Railroad connected the area with Salem, and an industrial economy based on the shipment of agricultural products began to take hold.

With the Morrison Bridge opening in 1887, the area (then part of the City of East Portland) was directly connected to the City of Portland. The bridge — the first to connect the east and west sides of the Willamette River — and the new rail lines to California and eastern states had a significant economic impact on the district and the entire Portland region. Portland was now a center of agricultural trade.

In 1891, East Portland was incorporated into the City of Portland, which was the Pacific Northwest’s biggest port — even bigger than Seattle.

By the end of the 19th century the east side was a thriving commercial district, its riverbank lined with double-decker docks that allowed the loading and unloading of ships both in low and high tide. Produce distribution and industrial service businesses lined the railroad tracks and Union Avenue (now Martin Luther King Blvd). Commerce spanned Grand Avenue, and vacant lots throughout the area filled in with a mix of industrial, commercial and residential uses.

Evolution of an Industrial Center

Over the decades, the types of industries in the Central Eastside have diversified, as have the transportation modes used to move both employees and products. Workers once arrived by foot or horse but soon came to rely on streetcar, and eventually the automobile, as the primary means to get to work.

The district is now served by a dynamic and growing multi-modal system that includes the return of streetcar, as well as bus, trucks, freight trains, light rail, bikes, pedestrians and cars.

Types of businesses today

The slow evolution of the Central Eastside into an industrial area has shaped the urban form we see today. With each successive era, the types of buildings and transportation infrastructure in the district have changed to meet the business needs.

While the character and types of businesses in the district have not changed significantly, the number of business sectors co-existing in the district has expanded. And although some companies — such as large-scale manufacturers and distribution companies — have relocated for more space or direct access to port facilities, many new businesses find the district’s buildings meet their needs.This evolution is most evident in the area between Water Avenue and Martin Luther King Blvd. Here older buildings that used to house a single produce distribution company now host numerous small scale manufacturing, industrial service and industrial office users.have changed to meet the business needs.

This is the second installment of a blog series aimed at exploring the past, present, and future of the Central Eastside. To learn more about the history of the Central Eastside and the planning efforts for the district, read the Central Eastside Reader  and visit the SE Quadrant Plan calendar to learn about future events.

 

Portland’s Central Eastside: Exploring the Past, Present, and Future of the District

The first installment of a blog series featuring the Central Eastside District, which is part of the City’s SE Quadrant Planning effort

The Southeast Quadrant, which includes the Central Eastside, Clinton Triangle and South Banfield Portal, is currently the most dynamic and evolving part of Portland’s Central City. Over the past decade, the Central Eastside (CES) has been an economic development success story, playing an important role in the city’s economic and job growth. This success can be attributed to a number of factors, including its unique characteristics and advantages as well as City policies.

Success has revitalized the district as new businesses set up shop in the area’s distinctive warehouses and industrial buildings. Cruise along any street in the inner eastside, and the energy and change is palpable. Husks of old warehouses are being rehabbed across the street from new commercial buildings. Pedestrians and cyclists are just as likely to travel the streets as a variety of freight vehicles. And the new light rail line taking shape across the river and south to Milwaukie will soon connect with the streetcar loop and provide additional opportunities for development around new station areas.

With change come new questions. What are the issues facing the Central Eastside as an industrial and employment center? How can different modes of transportation and parking issues be accommodated in this increasingly active area? Where should retail uses be located? And what policies and investments are needed to ensure the success of the district into the 21st century? These are just a few of the questions the SE Quadrant Plan will try to answer.

Defining the future character of the Central Eastside and developing strategies to balance the needs of traditional and new uses within the district will be the focus of this planning effort. Businesses, residents, transportation interest groups and others are invited to join the discussion and participate in the process of developing a long-range plan for the district over the next year (2014), which will then be rolled up into the Central City 2035 Plan.

Over the next month, this blog series will give the community a basic understanding of the area . . . past, present and future. To learn more about the Central Eastside and the planning efforts for the Central City Southeast District, read the Central Eastside Reader and visit the SE Quadrant Plan calendar for future events.