The Downtown Kenton District is an historic, commercial area in North Portland that has struggled over the last 30 years to attract and maintain a viable economic base. The four-block commercial corridor (focused along North Denver Avenue) long suffered from a high storefront vacancy rate, commercial services not complementary to a neighborhood commercial core, dilapidated buildings, and the perception of crime. SERA was hired as part of an urban design and economic development team to develop concepts that could be implemented in the near term to revitalize this once-thriving, working-class neighborhood center. The team performed development opportunity studies for six volunteer sites in the corridor to assist property owners with future development planning. Concepts included building and façade improvements, seismic enhancements, and recommendations for new mixed-use, transit-oriented buildings.
SERA also developed plans for improving the N. Denver Avenue streetscape with wider sidewalks, curb extensions, landscaping, pedestrian-scale lighting, gateway treatments, and a new signage system, and the team was subsequently hired by the Portland Development Commission (PDC) to prepare the Denver Avenue Streetscape Plan. The team designed conceptual and schematic streetscape plans for N. Denver that addressed several design challenges, including accommodating the parking and loading needs of local businesses, accommodating “over dimensional” freight, integrating “green street” stormwater treatments, incorporating Kenton’s rich history, expanding and improving the pedestrian realm, establishing public art throughout the corridor, and designing an innovative and compelling streetscape that the City would be able to construct and reasonably maintain.
At the project’s start, the Stakeholder Advisory Committee struggled with an “old guard/new guard” dichotomy and was characterized by a lack of trust and consensus among members, many of whom had different opinions about acceptable levels of “change.” SERA , PDC, and PBOT worked intensively with residents, property owners, and business owners, as well as the Kenton Neighborhood and Business Associations, over a two-year period to ensure not only the viability and acceptability of the final Streetscape Plan, but also as a means to build local engagement and capacity.
Following the Streetscape Plan’s adoption by Portland City Council, SERA was hired by PBOT to assist in the engineering phase to ensure consistency with agreed-upon concepts and assist with technical aspects of the design. The streetscape was completed in early 2010. Between the Plan’s adoption in 2008 and 2012, some 18 businesses have opened in, or relocated to, Downtown Kenton despite a tough national and local economic climate.