I first got an inkling of this news from Mike Thelin over at the Burnside Blogin a he wrote on City Commissioner Erik Sten. Now, as confirmed by the Portland Development Commission, popular Asian supermarket chain Uwajimaya is strongly considering opening a store in Portland’s downtown Chinatown neighborhood. Although I’ve heard rumors that they have been sniffing around Chinatown since at least 2004, this time there is some solid information.
PDC is supporting this project with a $100,000 pre-development loan to assist Uwajimaya and Sockeye Development LLC, with the feasibility of building on the surface parking lot between NW 4th and 5th, and Couch and Davis (otherwise known as “Block 33”) ,and “Block 32”, just to the South. The feasibility study began 30 days ago, and is expected to take four months to complete.
While no solid plan has been presented to the City, the project looks like it might be modeled on the successful rehab of the flagship 50+ year old Uwajimaya in Seattle’s International District. Ideas include up to 160 units of mixed income housing above the store, an underground parking lot below, and the possibility of a “phase II” additional high rise housing and retail development in the future.
The Seattle Uwajimaya has been credited in helping spur renewed interest and investment in the immediate area, and increasing the number of middle income residents in that neighborhood.
Peter Englander, the PDC Development Manager in charge of the Old Town/Chinatown Urban Renewal District, stated in an email this morning that PDC is very supportive of this project and have been in discussions with Uwajimaya for over a year. Additionally, he wrote,
“…the Downtown Portland location is unique because of its location in Old Town/Chinatown as well as proximity to the Pearl District. The Portland site will also benefit from direct access to regional light rail on one side and a future Portland Streetcar line on another. This will afford the opportunity to both serve the larger Downtown as well and customers from throughout the region. In addition, Uwajimaya is really excited about opportunities for a strong street presence for the store and expects that the store will literally open onto the street along Fifth Avenue, perhaps with roll up doors and vendor carts.“
I lived in close proximity to the Seattle Uwajimaya in the 1990s, and I am thrilled they are considering a similar project here. Chinatown needs a “catalyst development” and large anchor to turn it around, and as Uwajimaya is a well regarded destination business, it will fit perfectly with Portland’s reputation as an burgeoning food city. It will be an active and functional Asian based grocery, that will help serve basic needs of Central City residents and draw in tourists at the same time. Housing attached to a supermarket is smart, and will create a thriving 24-hour area that will feel safer than the current empty storefronts, by creating what urban planner types call, “eyes on the street.” Uwajimaya sells some of the best Asian groceries (including some of the freshest and hard to find fish and produce) in the region. I won’t miss the drive to out to Beaverton whenever I need my fix.
If you are interested in more information or want to show your support for this project you can contact Uwajimaya through their website www.uwajimaya.com.