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Portland's Central Eastside: Urban Character and Form

Main streets and corridors are at the heart of the district, providing space for commercial, retail and residential uses.

Although the Central Eastside is mostly known as an industrial district, the main street corridors along MLK, Grand Avenue, and Burnside, Morrison and Belmont Streets, as well as much of 12th Avenue, contain more than 85 acres of mixed-use zoning. These areas include a mix of housing, retail, commercial office and other land uses, with zoning entitlements that allow buildings as large and tall as those found in the Pearl District. However, there has been very little development in these areas.

The Central Eastside is experiencing a renaissance in transit service. Already served by bus and streetcar, the district will soon be connected to the greater region by light rail. When this system comes online — especially connections to the south via light rail, and west via light rail and streetcar — the expanded accessibility and exposure to the district will stimulate change that is hard to foresee. With lots of untapped development potential, these areas could provide ample opportunities for supportive retail and mixed-use development to locate in the district, just a short walk from most of the industrially zoned parcels in the district.

Balancing District Character and Function

Though it has been lost in other parts of the Central City, the unique industrial character of the Central Eastside exists largely because the area has been preserved as an industrial sanctuary.

Most buildings remain in use by large and small industrial businesses. However, as the needs and efficiencies of modern industrial users evolve, structures built decades ago for warehousing, manufacturing and industrial services may become obsolete and outlive the purposes for which they were intended. It will be important to examine how such buildings can be repurposed for nontraditional industrial uses, so the district can continue to be a business incubator for the city and regional economy.

This examination will need to consider how a mix of traditional and nontraditional industrial users can occupy the same district — often within the same building — and make it functionally and financially possible for both to coexist in the long run.

This is the tenth installment of a blog series aimed at exploring the past, present, and future of the Central Eastside. To learn more about the urban character and form 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.

PSC News: June 10, 2014 Meeting Recap and Documents

Comprehensive Plan Update Schedule — briefing; Willamette River Goal 15 Inventories — briefing


  • Comprehensive Plan Update Schedule briefing
  • Willamette River Goal 15 Inventories briefing

Meeting files

**If you receive an error message, click the icon to the right of "Contained Records" to open the document listing.

An archive of meeting minutes, documents and audio recordings of all Planning and Sustainability Commission meetings are available at

Business Profile: A Day in the Life of Oscar Camarena, Simple Bicycles

Everything he needs to build his custom bike frames is close to his shop in the Ranchers and Gardeners Building.

Attracted to the district because of its central location and access to everything he requires for his business, Oscar Camarena moved his metal fabrication business from Yakima, Wash., to the Central Eastside last year. Now on the first floor of the Gardeners and Ranchers Building at SE 3rd and Madison, Oscar creates bike jigs for frame builders and bicycle product developers around the world. He also builds custom bike frames under the name Simple Bicycles for the high-end cycling market.

He can often be found hanging out with his fellow tenant craftsmen and women, sharing industry knowledge and acting as the de facto “mayor” of this unique community of metal-smiths, designers, bike builders and other entrepreneurs. On Fridays they have their own happy hour in the building.

A self-described “foodie,” Oscar likes the Central Eastside location because of its proximity to lots of restaurants as well as all of his suppliers, distributors, services and other frame builders. He can push a shopping cart loaded with jigs to the powder coater, ride his bike to Winks for small parts and tools or drive his truck to pick up larger supplies in Northwest Portland, all within a 20-minute radius.

Oscar says there’s nowhere else in the city that he would rather do business.

Industrial Ecosystem

It’s easy to look at the Central Eastside and see a collection of individual, albeit diverse, businesses. However, a closer look at these seemingly independent enterprises reveals that most have a symbiotic relationship with other businesses in the area — from the same sector as well as from other sectors — that provide essential goods and services.

Together they form a loose economic ecosystem. Each supports the other in multiple ways, and the removal of one key business, let alone a whole sector, can have a ripple effect that begins to undermine the health and potential survival of many other businesses.

Oscar Camarena of Simple Bicycles provides an example of this kind of industrial “ecosystem.”

This is the ninth installment of a blog series aimed at exploring the past, present, and future of the Central Eastside. To learn more about the industrial businesses 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.

City Council Passes Majority of RICAP 6 to Second Reading

Short-term rental regulations still being debated; public hearing to be continued

On June 4, City Council chambers were packed with people hoping to testify on the Planning and Sustainability Commission’s (PSC) recommendation for the Regulatory Improvement Code Amendment Package 6, or RICAP 6 for short. 

After short presentations by staff and PSC Commissioner Katherine Schultz on the code amendments, Mayor Hales opened the hearing to the 78 people who had signed up to testify on the new short-term rental regulations. Much of the initial testimony came from current short-term rental operators for Airbnb and other vacation rental sites. But many people, including neighborhood activists, did not have time to speak. So commissioners voted to extend the hearing for the short-term rental proposal to July 2.

Questions arose about full-house vacation rentals, short-term rentals within apartments and condos, and the effect of short-term rentals on affordable housing. After three hours of testimony, Council decided that additional discussion and a follow-up hearing would be needed on the short-term rental amendments and agreed to the following: 

  • Schedule a work session with staff for June 24 at 10 a.m. to discuss the short-term rental issues.
  • Hold a second hearing on July 2 starting at 2 p.m. to allow more people to testify on the proposal and any subsequent revisions.
  • Forward the remainder of the regulatory amendments from RICAP 6 to a second reading on June 11 because these items did not generate any testimony or changes in the proposal.

Please check the RICAP calendar for additional information on the upcoming events.  For other updates to the short-term rental proposal, please check the RICAP Web Page.

Old Buildings, New Uses: Gardeners and Ranchers Building

The evolution of an industrial building

The Building Then

In 1922 the Italian Gardeners and Ranchers Association constructed the Italian Gardeners and Ranchers Association Market Building on Martin Luther King Blvd next to the Hawthorne Bridge viaduct.

Now known as the Gardeners and Ranchers Building, the three-story building provided farmers and peddlers with a central location to sell and distribute produce. The association and building were also instrumental in establishing the Central Eastside as a center for produce distribution and industry, and Gardeners and Ranchers served as a gathering place and ad hoc community center for newly arriving immigrants.

This building that once contained a produce market, dairy product section, a specialty Italian import grocer, a pool hall, meeting rooms, and later a clothing manufacturing facility, was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1989. Although it is no longer used for wholesale or produce distribution, its current tenants provide an example of how new industrial uses are populating the Central Eastside.


The Building Now

Today the Gardeners and Ranchers Building is home to more than 23 businesses that use every portion of the building, from the basement to the top floor.

Currently, the basement houses tenants like Ruckus Composites, which began repairing carbon fiber bike frames in a windowless 200 sq ft work space in 2008. Needing a place to paint their frames, they reached out to a cabinetmaker on the second floor, who made his paint booth available as needed. A few years in, the folks at Ruckus discovered they were not the only bike manufacturers in the building. They bumped into Oscar Camarena of Simple Bicycles, who shares his small work space loaded with metal fabrication tools with an architect/designer who makes specialty metal furnishings.

Next to Simple Bicycles is Plywerk, a small but growing company that does photo mounting and art panels in addition to constructing bamboo panels on site. Started in the basement of its founder, the company now occupies several hundred square feet of the Gardeners and Ranchers Building, where staff manufacture the frames as well as mount and ship the finished products to customers near and far.

The second (and top) floor of the building — an area likely used as the original meeting rooms and pool hall of the Italian Gardeners and Ranchers Association — now contains space used by Nike SB (skate boarding), Clogmaster (custom shoes), Virtual Native (web design), Plus QA (desktop and mobile applications) and Streetcar Press (publishing), among others.

The Gardeners and Ranchers Building presents an interesting case study of how older industrial buildings in the district can be reused by a mix of businesses, across different sectors. It also demonstrates how different businesses in the district form interdependent and synergistic relationships that help each one prosper.


This is the eighth installment of a blog series aimed at exploring the past, present, and future of the Central Eastside. To learn more about the industrial buildings 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.