New waterfront complex planned near OMSI

Multnomah County
An illustration of how the Portland River Center might appear on the eastbank of the Willamette River.

PORTLAND, Ore. (PORTLAND TRIBUNE) — Portland prides itself as being a “river city.”

Now it may get a publicly accessible riverfront facility befitting that image.

The Willamette Riverkeeper and four paddling clubs are teaming up with the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry to develop the glitzy new river-themed center on the east bank of the river next to OMSI.

Pegged to cost $10 million to $12 million, the two-story 29,000-square-foot facility, dubbed Portland River Center, would provide a river-oriented interpretative center, space for classes, lectures and OMSI educational programs, and racks to store dozens of kayaks, canoes and dragon boats.

The Portland River Center would include a new boat dock on the river and unparalleled access for people to get down into the water in small crafts. Organizers also vow to provide new spaces to view the river, and to upgrade a gritty asphalt section of the popular east bank pathway on OMSI property.

“The thing is really coalescing,” said Travis Williams, executive director of Willamette Riverkeepers, a nonprofit advocacy group that will operate the interpretive center.

Organizers are negotiating with OMSI to lease land just north of the museum, and south of the Portland Boathouse at 1515 S.E. Water Ave., where the paddling groups and Willamette Riverkeeper are currently housed.

Their lease at that building expires in about a year and a half, and they don’t expect to be able to afford the rent when it expires.

Organizations that are part of the Portland Boathouse have been scouring the inner-city waterfront several years for a new home, and they think they have finally landed on a prime location.

Enlisting OMSI as a partner gives the group land to build and the chance to serve some of the multitudes of visitors to the science museum.

Other partners are:

• Wasabi Paddling Club, which serves more than 300 people of all ages and abilities for dragon boating and outrigger canoes.

• Rose City Rowing Club, which offers competitive rowing for middle and high school students and includes 175 members.

• Station L Rowing Club, an adult rowing club that includes 140 members.

• Portland State University Crew, a student-run rowing club with men’s and women’s teams.

Organizers will submit their building plans for a pre-application conference with city bureaus on Feb. 8, Williams said.

Volunteers leading the effort are now interviewing professionals to lead a capital fundraising campaign, said volunteer leader Patrick Quinton.

Quinton is the former executive director of the Portland Development Commission, now called Prosper Portland, and brings considerable financial and real estate expertise. He is not a paddler, but his son was an active member of the Rose City Rowing Club, who now is on the crew team at Harvard University.

“It helped him stand out when he applied for colleges,” Quinton said. “That’s partly why I feel a debt of gratitude.”

Getting city approval won’t be a cakewalk, as the project will be built partly in the Willamette River setback meant to restrict most development. One exception, under city rules for building in the setback, is river-related activities.

The Portland River Center was designed to put river-related amenities, such as viewing areas and boat storage in the setback, so crafts can easily be hand-carried out to a future dock in the river. Offices will be deliberately placed outside the setback area, Quinton said.

Under the proposed design, visitors to the building will walk into the interpretative center on the ground floor, located near some 17,000 square feet of boat-storage space. Offices and educational spaces will be located upstairs.

Initially, leaders of the Portland Boathouse talked about needing $3 million for a replacement facility, but that was a guess before any designs were done, Quinton said. And the project has grown more ambitious, with the addition of the interpretive center and education space for OMSI and other activities.

Even if the city moves fast to approve the project, which is unlikely, organizations in the Portland Boathouse must find an interim storage space for their crafts until the building is completed.

Two earlier parties in the project are no longer involved. Alder Creek Canoe and Kayak, which had been the lone for-profit group at the boathouse, closed down its retail shop, Williams said. The University of Portland, which once used the boathouse for its crew teams, found another site near the university in North Portland.

Earlier talk of locating in the nearby Pepco Building was shelved because of complications of using that site, and because it turned out easier to build anew, Williams said.

Quinton acknowledged that raising money will be a “big lift,” but he noted it’s a one-time effort.

“There’s a lot coming together,” Williams said. “I think it’s doable.”

The Portland Tribune is a KOIN media partner. 

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