Los Angeles developers to move ahead on 281-unit South Waterfront apartment building

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A development proposal for a site in Portland’s South Waterfront shows plans for a six-story building with 281 housing units and retail storefronts designed by GBD Architects. (Bureau of Development Services)

Elliot Njus | enjus@oregonian.comBy Elliot Njus | enjus@oregonian.com 
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on January 30, 2014 at 6:00 AM, updated January 30, 2014 at 1:53 PM

A Los Angeles development firm has purchased a vacant South Waterfront site where it plans to build a six-story apartment building, its first foray into the Portland market.

The project was first proposed by Seattle-based Harbor Urban in April. Nine months and a merger later, the recently formed Mack Urban said Wednesday it’s moving ahead with the project at 3700 S.W. River Parkway under its new banner.

The group bought the 1.67-acre parcel from South Waterfront developer Williams & Dame Development for $7.05 million. It’s still early in the project’s design phase, which was put off while the merger was in the works, but plans call for 281 for-rent apartments and 250 parking stalls.

The development is the first in Portland in Mack Urban’s portfolio, which also includes properties in Los Angeles and Seattle. But its leaders have ties to the Portland area, including Managing Director Jim Atkins’ time working for Williams & Dame on the master plans for the Pearl District and the South Waterfront.

“Looking through the South Waterfront in that lens, I’m very bullish on idea that it will have a similar trajectory” as the Pearl District, Atkins told The Oregonian on Wednesday.

Atkins said the company was drawn to the site because of coming employment growth tied to the Oregon Health & Science University’s expansion, as well as access to public transportation and an (admittedly still developing) sense of place in the neighborhood. 

“We’re building for younger people, and we’re building smaller units that are highly amenitized for them,” said Richard Mack, whose family real estate group is a partner in Mack Urban. “Those younger people are attracted to cities like Portland because of the lifestyle and because of the job opportunities.”

The project could be under construction by the third quarter of the year, Atkins said. The group expects to bring also expects to name another equity investor in the project in coming months.

And more projects could be in the offing. The group has seven recently completed or in progress in the much faster-moving Seattle area. 

“We like (the Portland) market a lot,” said Mack Urban President Matthew Burton. “We’d love to do three, four, five projects here. We know it’s not going to happen in a year.”

Brokerage Jones Lang LaSalle marketed the parcel for sale.

The South Waterfront, meanwhile, has seen a resurgence in construction activity.

Another market-rate apartment building, The Emery, built by the Zidell family on its largely undeveloped South Waterfront holdings, opened in September. Other apartment developers are seeking permits.

In addition, and new Collaborative Life Sciences Building affiliated with OHSU and the Oregon University System is nearing completion, and TriMet’s as-yet-unnamed Portland-Milwaukie light rail bridge is expected to open in 2015.

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