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PORTLAND-The City Council late last week approved a plan for $1.3-billion of development that will transform 31 acres of industrial riverfront into a thicket of residential condominium and office towers that will forever alter the city skyline, challenging the Downtown core in both height and density.

The chunk of land, located southeast of Downtown Portland but on the same side of river, is known as the central district of a larger, 130-acre area called the South Waterfront area, which in turn is part of the 409-acre North Macadam Urban Renewal Area. Specifically, the central district is located between the Ross Island Bridge and Bancroft Street. Oregon Health Sciences University and private investors including developer Homer Williams will develop the area over the next 17 years per an agreement with the city’s urban renewal agency, the Portland Development Commission.

Under the agreement, the district will be filled with high rise buildings providing mostly view-rich high-end condominiums that city officials hope will lure the wealthy back from the suburbs, strengthening the tax base and helping the city to afford the public money that will be spent to pay for the necessary infrastructure to move people in and out of the new district. The area also will include a satellite campus for Oregon Health Sciences University, which is landlocked atop Marquam Hill, which rises immediately west of the South Waterfront area. OHSU’s existing campus will be connected to the South Waterfront by an aerial tram and the district as a whole will be connected to Downtown by an extension of the city’s streetcar line.

Preliminary plans call for 2,700 condominium and apartment units, or 120 units per acre, which is exponentially more dense than any other existing neighborhood in the city. Moreover, the condominium towers will rise between 250 feet and 325 feet, making them some of the tallest buildings here. The height is in part in exchange for the extension of the city’s public riverfront greenway into the area and in part a way to maximize tax revenue from the condominiums, as the apartments will likely get tax breaks and OHSU’s development will not be taxable at all as it is a nonprofit entity.

The agreement outlines $440 million in private investment in direct new building development for the first phase of the three-phase central district agreement and $103 million in public infrastructure projects. At build out, possibly by 2020, the Central District will have received $1.3 billion in private investment, according to the Portland Development Commission, which is directing the development.

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