Vanport 3: Vacant Lot, Clinic, or Trader Joe’s?

Original King Commercial Center Sketch

Meetings were held recently at Curious Comedy so that the Portland Development Commission could update the Vanport business owners and members of the Vanport Project Advisory Committee. The topic was the unsolicited proposal the PDC has received to complete Phase 3 of the project. This phase is the keystone of the development that would provide a landmark building at the corner of Alberta and Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. The project has struggled to attract an anchor tenant necessary to get the project going and attract smaller retailers to participate. Lacking that commitment and considering the adverse economic climate, the project was put on hold.

In order to anchor the project, a grocery store was the main focus of negotiations between developers, PDC, and retailers. Various companies were approached and some expressed interest but none would commit to the site. 24 Hour Fitness became the main prospect for an anchor but backed out. In the time since the first plans for Vanport were made, the site has been ringed by new fitness clubs, gyms and grocery stores. New Seasons built the Concordia Store at 33rd and Killingsworth, Arbor Lodge store at Interstate and Rosa Parks, and is rumored to be negotiating a deal to build again at Williams and Fremont. Whole Foods took over the Nature’s at 15th and Fremont and Safeway has just begun another remodel of its King store and will be adding more organic and “natural” items.

The latest proposal would consist primarily of a post-surgical rehabilitation clinic, offices for the Urban League, and only 5000 square feet of retail. The clinic was estimated to bring in foot traffic of only 100 people a month. Sara King of PDC said at the meeting that the proposal, in its current form, falls short of PDC’s expectations for the project. Ray Leary went a bit further, saying: “There’s not enough lipstick . . . to dress up this pig.”

One thing neighbors have said they wanted to see at the site that would complement the current offerings is a Trader Joe’s. Indeed, there have been ongoing negotiations with the retailer but developers Ray Leary and Jeff Sackett have been told “not now.” Trader Joe’s typically has its customers drive as far a 10 miles to shop at their stores and the company fears a new store at this location would take too much business from its Hollywood location. Trader Joe’s would not necessarily be dissuaded by other grocers in close proximity due to its niche business model.

When the Vanport businesses purchased their spaces in phase 1, they were told by PDC to be patient in waiting for the completion of the project in a way that would bring the traffic to make thier businesses thrive. In the end, it seemed the concensus was that this project was not what they had been waiting for and if given the choice, they would rather go on waiting for the right anchor tenant than see this project get built.

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4 thoughts on “Vanport 3: Vacant Lot, Clinic, or Trader Joe’s?

  1. Trader Joes would be a good fit! I would for one would shop at Trader Joe if in the Vanport /MLK site as would many of my new-to-the-area, young urban-ite foodie neighbors. Alberta has a co-op but that is the only natural/organic store option in my immediate area. I do not drive and Safeway is very limited in those products.

  2. I would like to have better access to Trader Joe’s as well. I almost never shop at the store in Hollywood since it adds such a travel/parking burden. A walkable/bikeable TJ’s within close proximity to Safeway would be a good fit. Whatever goes in to this site, it needs to be done right to provide the “activation” needed to provide a critical mass of traffic so all the businesses can support each other.

  3. I agree that the other Trader Joe stores are a travel/parking burden from our neighborhood and so they rarely get my business despite being a big fan. I would be a regular customer if they added a store in the Vanport Development.

  4. I don not think/feel another super market is necessary in our neighborhood. Instead of activate the area with another “chain modeled” store, I would love to hear ideas of creative original projects. It seems to me that in order to make that intersection flourish, more than the empty corner has to be addressed: tree plantings, street lights and stoplights, crosswalks, empty N.E. corner,etc
    I would love something like a children’s museum.

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