Live Like You're on Vacation: Interview with Craig Boretz

Craig Boretz is Vice President of Development of Con-way, a sponsor of the recent 50th International Making Cities Livable Conference. The Con-way development in Portland, Oregon is currently being planned as an entirely new 17-acre section of the Northwest Neighborhood. GBD Architects and Con-way created a master plan development framework that was approved by the City of Portland in September 2012. Between 1,100 and 1,500 new housing units in a mixed-use development are projected in the next 10-15 years.

1. Why is Con-way developing the area in the Northwest Neighborhood? What is your goal in overseeing this project?

This whole thing started about six or seven years ago when the real estate market was really taking off. The principle reason for doing this is because this is where we live - we employ about 1,000 people in two buildings on the site. We want to have amenities nearby in order to attract the best and the brightest. New Seasons grocery store in the development will be in a repurposed warehouse we sold recently and there will be apartments and so on. The other amenities on the development will be a park, a greenspace, which will be really fantastic. Another is a public plaza, which employees will take advantage of as well. We’re taking the opposite approach that Nike has in Beaverton - they’ve isolated themselves and brought all the amenities in. It’s a beautiful campus to be sure, but I think in today’s urban world it has to be more vertical and walkable to fit people in the urban environment.

We happen to be fortunate enough to own this property between the Pearl district and NW 23rd, and we’re doing what we can to make it the best that it can be. We’ve held some of this land for a long, long time, 80 years in some cases. We’ve been in this area since 1929. The company has gone through a variety of iterations (originally Consolidated Truck Lines) and now it consists of Con-way and a logistics company called Menlo Worldwide Logistics. What you have in Portland is the technology office - over half the employees are IT Tech people. So, we’ve been a company that was larger at one point, but we sold off one of our larger business units to UPS. When we did that we came to the realization that we have enough office space and don’t need another building. So, why don’t we develop it? And we started it in 2006.

2. How will this project relate to the existing neighborhood? Will it provide resources and serviced needed in the area? Will Con-way buildings remain as a major employer for the neighborhood?

The answer to that last part is an absolute yes. There will be new amenities that they can walk to very easily, or ride their bike to. There will be a huge variety of things - other retail, restaurants, that mix is not completely determined yet because it’s market driven. We can’t do anything, or won’t do anything, other than whoever will rent it or build it based on real estate. We try not to put too much resource into it because we’re fundamentally a transportation company, but I can make it happen.

Early rendering of the proposed public square as part of the Con-way redevelopment masterplan (Image courtesy of GBD Architects)

3. What is your vision for this new area? How will you make this the most livable neighborhood in Portland?

When I think of livable, I think of what is commonly referred to in Portland as the 20-minute neighborhood where you can essentially walk to everything that you need. If you work in a neighborhood like that, you might be incentivized to live in that neighborhood. Then, maybe you walk and decide not to drive. I live in the Pearl and I view that as tremendously livable. You’ve got parks, you’ve got grocery stores, you’ve got restaurants, you’ve got every kind of retail experience you can think of. And you’ve got a great mix of people. I’ve lived in the Pearl for ten years now, and I still think, when I’m at home or out somewhere, that I’m on vacation! You walk out the door and you can be in a park or anywhere you want to be. You get to know your neighbors really well because you’re out on the street. You can be sitting at a cafe and five people walk by, and you give them a little chat, and life is good.

4. How important is it to include a neighborhood square? Will the square be designed to bring people of all ages together, to foster social life and community?

I think it’s very important. I think it’s a gathering place. I think it has to become a place, it has to become an attractor. So it either has to be programmed or it has to have amenities to draw people there and keep them there. There have to be connectors to that square along the way, it can’t just be isolated in the middle of nowhere. There are lots of examples of squares in Europe, though I think they have an advantage that we don’t have - they have tremendous history and architecture that is ancient. So you wind up in these great public squares in Europe and you don’t know how you got there. I think a square has to have a lot of links and a lot of attractors. For instance, some people don’t like Pioneer Courthouse Square. It’s okay. It gets programmed a lot. But I think if there was something else on the square other than a few food carts and Starbucks that attracted people it could be better. The Con-way square is going to be quite a design. I’m sure there will be some kind of design competition with plenty of public participation. It will be exciting!

5. Can you give us any more information regarding the development of this neighborhood? Do you know when it will be completed?

In terms of the timeline, the only thing we know for sure is that New Seasons will begin construction by the end of this year and be finished by Spring 2015. The planning for the park will begin sometime this year. How everything else gets built out will depend on market forces. There may be some creative office space that gets built on the site, but the timing is uncertain. The planning and approval takes a long time, and then the market has to be right. As long as it bubbles along like it is now it’ll be fine. But if the economy takes a breather then we can add two to three years to any timeline.

6. Any final thoughts to add about this development?

I’m just excited to be a part of it. It makes my job incredibly fun. I get up every morning and look forward to going to work. And of course cities aren’t for everyone, but I think the more crowded the world gets, the more we’re going to have to focus on developing for this greater volume of people in order to fit everyone in livable cities.