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Portland's Central Eastside: Riverfront District

Initial development along the east bank of the Willamette was shaped by the sloughs, inlets and stream channels that flowed into the river. Bridges and trestles dominated the street network, and soon these facilities were linked to docks, which facilitated the movement of produce and connected the City of Portland with East Portland via ferry. As time passed, larger docks and other river-dependent uses emerged, dominating the east bank of the river until the middle of the 20th century.

Today the Central Eastside is often overlooked as a waterfront district because so much of it is cut off from the river by I-5. Yet despite this barrier, the east bank of the Willamette has much to offer and great potential for the future.

Eastbank Esplanade

Opened in 2001, the Vera Katz Eastbank Esplanade restored public access to the Willamette for inner Southeast Portland residents and established a high-performing pedestrian and bicycle loop for the Central City’s waterfront. Although much of the waterfront remains cut off from direct access to the river by the freeway, the Esplanade is well connected to the Hawthorne, Morrison, Burnside and Steel bridges.

OMSI

Built around and incorporating the historic Station L power plant, the popular Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI) features a planetarium, OMNIMAX Theater and several thousand square feet of interactive display space. Since its inception, OMSI has acquired additional land and is currently in the second phase of developing a master plan for future museum expansion. The museum may pursue a mix of other uses it hopes can support its growth, while creating a more vibrant presence along the waterfront as well as at the nearby light rail station set to open in 2015.

Portland Spirit

With 200 employees and a fleet of four dinner boats, Portland Spirit runs more than 2,000 cruises annually on the lower Willamette and Columbia Rivers. The company’s Central Eastside facilities contain its maintenance facility, main office and a 500-ft dock for its current fleet. The company hopes to someday provide high-speed ferry service to Lake Oswego and Vancouver, Wash. These existing and envisioned facilities and services could connect the OMSI station area to the region in a way not possible elsewhere, adding to a vibrant eastside waterfront district.

Ross Island Sand & Gravel

In addition to mining the island for decades, Ross Island Sand and Gravel also operates a concrete batch plant — perhaps the only true waterfront industrial use remaining in the Central Eastside. This facility still depends upon its waterfront location to load and unload materials from barges, providing visitors to the OMSI-Springwater Trail with an opportunity to view one of the last waterfront industrial uses in the Central City.

New Opportunities

Stakeholders have consistently expressed a desire for the new light rail station at OMSI to become a catalyst for the development of a more accessible and vibrant waterfront district. Proximity to the water and regional transit were seen as major opportunities to establish numerous public amenities, such as new open space areas and expanded visitor destinations at OMSI and Portland Opera. The area was also identified as a key location for making stronger connections between the Central Eastside and institutions on the west side of the river, as well as between inner eastside neighborhoods and the Willamette River. A new home for the Portland Boathouse, Oregon Maritime Museum and potentially regional high speed ferry service were also explored. More work needs to be done to explore the feasibility of these ideas through the planning process, but the desire to restore the Central Eastside into a vibrant waterfront district seems to be shared by many.

 

This is the twelfth installment of a blog series aimed at exploring the past, present, and future of the Central Eastside. To learn more about the river district 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.