Terminal 1 Is Back in the Driver’s Seat

Terminal 1, the decrepit former marine terminal located on NW Front Avenue just north of the Fremont Bridge on the west side of the Willamette River, was recently bought by the Medford-based automotive company, Lithia Motors. The company plans to develop a portion of the property for its own use, but also plans to sell a large portion of the property to developers, presumably for industrial use as the property is zoned heavy industrial, which forbids the construction of offices, retail stores, or residential housing. Given Terminal 1's history, it is apropos that a transportation company is once again in charge of the property's use.

The Terminal 1 property was originally acquired by what was then the Commission of Public Docks during an era when residents of the City of Portland were concerned about the influence and control of railroads and other private corporations over Portland's harbor, as well as the decrepit state of many docks that were then in private ownership. In 1910, the city's voters approved a public bond to acquire land for public docks and created the Commission of Public Docks. The Commission was charged primarily with the construction and operation of docks and terminals, while at that time, the Port of Portland was primarily responsible for the shipping channel, including dredging operations. The two entities were merged in the early 1970s. The Commission opened Terminal 1 in 1913. It was developed over the years to include a main dock, some slips, a lumber dock, a warehouse, a 100-ton shear leg derrick, and automobile and machine shops. Site structures were ultimately demolished in the summer of 2002. In 2004, the City of Portland purchased the property from the Port to use as a staging area for the Big Pipe Project (the city's construction of two large pipes on either side of the Willamette River to eliminate most combined sewer overflows to the Willamette River and Columbia Slough). After that project was completed, the city subsequently declared the property as surplus and put up it for sale in 2014.

Terminal 1 almost became a homeless shelter last year when the city went along with Homer Williams' plan to convert the site to a massive homeless campus. Luckily, the city came to its senses and shelved that project and put the property back up for sale. Now that Lithia Motors plans to consolidate its local operations at this site, the city will likely come several steps closer to its vision of having a vibrant and productive working harbor and waterfront. Hopefully this vision is holistic though, and will include a robust public transportation system, even if a car company is driving the development.