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Can Portland Save Its Arts? | Towne Storage | Milepost 5 | Zidell Yards


Milepost 5, an intentional community in Northeast Portland populated by condos and affordable apartments.

Milepost 5, an intentional community in Northeast Portland populated by condos and affordable apartments.

April Baer/OPB

The squeeze on Portland’s real estate market has sent artists scampering for affordable space. On Feb. 28, Portland city leaders will bring a year’s worth of research to bear with two dozen recommendations aimed at preserving the arts spaces that remain and clearing a path for the studios, galleries and venues of tomorrow. We’re going to spend this hour looking at those recommendations and getting some innovative ideas that are not in the plan.


Jennifer and Josh Nusbaum. Their business, Waterknot, was one of the lucky survivors of the Towne Storage exodus.

Jennifer and Josh Nusbaum. Their business, Waterknot, was one of the lucky survivors of the Towne Storage exodus.

April Baer/OPB

Towne Storage - Where Are They Now?

There are many artists and arts groups that have been priced out of their space. But one of the stories that stayed with us was Towne Storage. A 100-year-old warehouse in the Central Eastside, its brick walls and wood floors housed hundreds of creative businesses for decades — artists, photographers, musicians, booksellers and much more. We caught up with a few artists who used to work there.


A Plan for Preserving and Expanding Affordable Creative Space

Draft recommendations compiled by staff from Mayor Ted Wheeler, and Commissioners Nick Fish and Chloe Eudaly.

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The Vision: Commissioners Nick Fish and Chloe Eudaly - 5:48

City Commissioners Nick Fish and Chloe Eudaly, working in concert with Mayor Ted Wheeler, will present a series of two dozen recommendations aimed at preserving the city’s creative space. Their work has been deeply informed by Towne Storage and other projects, as well as by case studies from other West Coast cities. We sat down with both of them this week to hear more about what they’re proposing.


Ken Unkeles has a gift for turning old industrial spaces like this warehouse at NW Marine Ironworks, into desirable studio space for artists.

Ken Unkeles has a gift for turning old industrial spaces like this warehouse at NW Marine Ironworks, into desirable studio space for artists.

April Baer/OPB

Proposal I: Re-Establish the Arts Concierge - 9:21

The minute you start asking around about creative space in Portland, there’s a guy everyone tells you to see: Ken Unkeles. The owner of five industrial buildings filled with maker space, he’s played a long-term strategy to turn inexpensive buildings into artist studios, while staying in the black. His secret weapon? A lone employee at the Bureau of Development Services, Suzanne Vara. Vara’s mandate was to help shepherd small businesses through the complex permitting process. One of Commissioner Fish and Eudaly’s proposals involves recreating Vara’s unique role.


Musician and luthier Chris Lomba of Seattle.

Musician and luthier Chris Lomba of Seattle.

GIL_AEGERTER/KUOW

Proposal XV: Creative Districts — 18:17

Another proposal up for consideration this month would ask Portland to designate creative districts. By drawing bright lines around a neighborhood rich with artists, music or other makers, in hopes of influencing design and permitting decisions. Seattle is already doing this. Our colleague Marcie Sillman from sister station KUOW in Seattle sent us this case study.


The Calling All Choir performing at a “Friend-Raiser” for Counterpulse.

The Calling All Choir performing at a “Friend-Raiser” for Counterpulse.

Cy Musiker/KQED

Proposal XV: A Dedicated Real Estate Investment Model — 24:16

Some arts non-profits would dearly love to buy their own building and leave behind the uncertainties of leasing space. We were fascinated by a nonprofit in San Francisco that’s helping arts groups do it: the Community Arts Stabilization Trust. Reporter Cy Musiker at KQED in San Francisco tells how it works. Then, we speak with Moy Eng, executive director of CAST, to talk about whether her group’s model could work in a smaller city.


Tenants of Milepost 5 cover the walls with their work.

Tenants of Milepost 5 cover the walls with their work.

April Baer/OPB

Proposal VI: Incentivize Creative Space — 34:50

Fish and Eudaly’s proposals include a recommendation that the Revenue Bureau consider ways to make it more viable for commercial developers to build creative space into their buildings. Portland’s most famous experiment of this kind is Milepost 5. Perched on Northeast 82nd Avenue, the complex is full of condos and apartments for artists. But it has something of a mixed legacy, and the building is about to change hands. We check in with Milepost 5 at 10 years, and talk with the project’s developer, Brad Malsin.


Architects' rendering of Zidell Yards, a new development in Southwest Portland thatwill include space for the arts.

Architects’ rendering of Zidell Yards, a new development in Southwest Portland thatwill include space for the arts.

Courtesy of Zidell Yards

Zidell Yards Will Reshape Portland’s Skyline  — With Arts at the Table — 45:10

The clanging of steel on steel that filled the air for a half century of barge building at the Zidell Yards went silent when the company closed its barge business last year. But consider this quiet on the 33- acre-stretch of land spreading out under the Ross Island Bridge along the Willamette River’s west like a field gone to fallow. Zidell Yards is waiting to be reborn as an enormous, new, multi-use development: office space, housing, parks, and restaurants, with, if the Zidell family has its way, affordable arts space interwoven throughout. We catch up with Charlene Zidell and some of the arts groups imagining how they might make a new model with arts co-working space, a flexible performance hall, and an ambitious public art plan that spreads across Zidell Yards, OHSU, and OMSI’s coming development. Can they create a new center of gravity for the arts?

Next week, State of Wonder will broadcast live from Astoria’s FisherPoets Gathering on Saturday, Feb. 23 at noon at the Wet Dog Cafe. For the land-locked, there’s a FisherPoets preview on Wednesday, Feb. 21 at 7pm at Salvage Works.

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