Smart Growth Stories: Taking transit-oriented development to a new level in Portland, OR

For developers selecting a site for new development, transit accessibility is a major selling point. A good transit connection can increase property values while making a site more attractive to potential investors and residents. But because transit stations are limited resources, only a handful of sites can boast direct transit access. What if a site were to have access to not only one transit line, but three?

That is the situation for LOCUS member ZRZ Realty and its property Zidell Yards. With three types of transit, the Yards might be the most transit-oriented development site in the country.

“There are very few sites that have streetcar and light rail,” says Dennis Allen, Director of Planning and Development for ZRZ Realty and LOCUS Steering Committee member. “I guarantee you that we’re probably the only one that also has an aerial tram that goes next to it. If you throw that in, it’s probably the most pre-eminent transit-oriented development site.”

Zidell Yards is a 33-acre former shipbuilding yard along the Willamette River in Portland, which ZRZ is now working to develop into a mixed-use district. Located directly adjacent to downtown and close to Oregon Health & Science University, a major employer in the area, it is the largest undeveloped site in the city. With such immediate transportation access, the property has created high hopes for economic development and investment in the area and Allen is confident his company can capitalize on the demand for TOD in Portland right now. More amenities, retail stores and restaurants are expected soon, following the development-friendly path of the city’s expanding light-rail line.

“We’re also adjacent to a streetcar system and we also have the benefit of having an aerial tram that takes people from a hospital that’s up on the hill above us [OHSU] down to this old industrial warehouse area that has now been transformed into this waterfront area,” Allen says.

ZRZ Realty invested heavily in cleaning up the former industrial site and priming it for development. By redeveloping this infill site and taking advantage of the numerous transportation options, Allen hopes to lower future residents’ cost of moving around and creating more opportunities for recreation along the riverfront while also stimulating the local economy.

“If you extend that area out, where you can get to the light rail and sort of just live your life differently, now you’re changing the complete dynamic of how people live,” Allen says.

Allen also hopes that the high level of connectivity on the southwest waterfront can help to address affordable housing issues by spreading the benefits of transit access over a wider area. Streetcars attached to light rail stations and other transportation network “extenders” play a key role in this, by providing quality transit access to areas where land and development costs are less expensive, and housing can be built more affordably.

As a network of real estate developers and investors that advocates for sustainable, walkable urban development, LOCUS, in partnership with Smart Growth America, is working hard at the federal and state level to ensure that projects like Ziddell Yards can succeed. Most recently, LOCUS was successful in securing changes within the most recent federal transportation bill to the popular Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) program making it easier for developers like ZRZ to get financing for transit-oriented development projects.

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