Is Change Finally Coming to Portland’s Centennial Mills Site?

A San Antonio, Texas real estate development company, The Lynd Company, is at the top of a list of proposals to finally develop the 4.4-acre Centennial Mills site located along the western side of the Willamette River just north of downtown Portland. The Centennial Mills site was originally built in 1910 by Balfour-Guthry and Company, a shipping and investment company from Liverpool, England, and operated under the name Crown Mills for the production of flour (called Crown Flour). The mill’s ownership changed after World War II, and production ultimately ceased in the late 1990s, after which the mill’s then-current owner, Archer-Daniels Midland, sold the mill to the Portland Development Commission (now Prosper Portland), which repurposed it for a while to house the city’s mounted police program.

Prosper Portland acquired the mill using funds for urban renewal and with the ultimate goal of fulfilling the city’s planning purposes of enhancing the Portland waterfront with public open spaces. Because the mill had fallen into serious and dangerous disrepair, the city had to demolish portions of it. To date, it has invested over $15 million in the site. While the city’s plan for the mill site does not impose particular redevelopment criteria, it lays out five key principles to guide redevelopment: provide open space, capture history, define a community focal point, strengthen connections, and embrace sustainability. Efforts to develop the site have failed, however, and in December 2017, Prosper Portland issued a call for offers to buy the site.

The proposal that The Lynd Company (a family business founded in 1980 that develops, owns, and manages multifamily housing properties in multiple states and cities throughout the US) presented to Prosper Portland envisions a mixed-use development with two new buildings for 400 residential units, which would partially be required to be used for low-income housing, and would preserve the existing flour mill structures still left on site.

It’s hard to imagine that there are enough people living in Portland to fill the many new upscale housing units being built in the Pearl District when the average professional cannot afford to buy there. While the Centennial Mill site, along with other residential developments in the area, may be required to reserve a certain percentage for low-income housing, I fail to see how that is practical when there are no reasonably priced grocery stores, affordable child care, or any other kinds of shops nearby where a person with even a higher-than-average income could comfortably shop. Public transportation is likewise sparse. Let’s hope the city has bigger plans than just more pretty buildings