Landmarks Commission discusses New Omni (images)

The New Omni tower has returned in front of the Historic Landmarks Commission for a second Design Advice Request hearing. The 13 story building by Ankrom Moisan Architects would include 135 residential units, over ground floor retail and mechanical parking. The project is being developed by Chad Rennaker’s Palindrome Communities. Rennaker is also behind the adjacent PINTS brewery.

Should the project move forward it could be the first Central City building to be build with inclusionary housing units, with 10% of the units affordable to those earning 60% of Area Median Family Income or less.

New Omni

The project site is a little over a quarter block, in the New Chinatown/Japantown Historic District. Most of the site is used as surface parking, adjacent to a 1954 building considered “non-contributing” to the historic district. The southernmost portion of the site is occupied by the 1941 Harper Brass Works Co Building, designed by architect Richard Martin, Jr. The building, which is considered “contributing” to the district, was most recently used by the Omni Gallery.

At the project’s first design advice request hearing demolition of the Harper Brass Works Co Building was proposed, which would have required city council approval. In the revised proposal enough of the existing structure, including the street facing facade, would remain for the project to be considered an addition to the historic building.

At 13 stories the New Omni would be significantly taller than any of the contributing structures in the historic district, though of a similar height to the Pacific Tower, which was built in 2000. Under the current zoning code the maximum height allowed on the site is 425′. Under the Central City 2035 zoning code revisions, scheduled to come into effect on May 24th, the maximum allowable height on the site would be reduced to 125′. An amendment to the plan, proposed by Mayor Wheeler, would slightly lessen the degree of downzoning proposed and allow buildings of up to 160′ on the four blocks bound by NW 5th, Glisan, 3rd and Everett. The council is scheduled to vote on the package of Central City 2035 amendments at a closed hearing on March 7th.
New Omni

Proposed materials for the tower include brick in two colors, precast concrete, and dark fiberglass windows.

New Omni

New Omni

New Omni

New Omni

At the December 7th advisory hearing the project faced substantial opposition from the Landmarks Commission, as summarized in a staff memo. Concerns were largely centered around the scale of the building. Commissioners Roman, Minor, and Chung believed that the project is too large for the district, which is primarily composed of much shorter buildings. Commissioners Foty and Mahoney indicated they were comfortable with the height, while Commission Chair Ranzetta indicated that he could accept the height if the ground floor was very well articulated. Other concerns were raised about the facade articulation, with one commissioner stating that the detailing is “very harsh and reminiscent of fascist architecture”.

As reported by the Willamette Week in January it is now unclear whether the project will proceed. In order to gain approval the project would need to go through a Type III Historic Resource Review, with public hearings in front of the Landmarks Commission. Should the city council choose to reduce the allowable height on the site to below what would be needed for a 13 story building then the project would have to be submitted for review before May, or return as a smaller building.


5 thoughts on “Landmarks Commission discusses New Omni (images)

  1. As a Jew, I find the comparison of this very nice building to Nazi building styles to be both offensive and and disingenuous. It’s a very cheap shot at what could be a fine addition to the neighborhood, and criticizing the the design in this fashion is unforgivable.

    • Looks like the SJW’s have found their way into architecture… This whole notion of calling everything you don’t agree with “fascism” is getting ridiculous. It’s just a building, people — a very nice-looking one, I might add.

      • Although I’m not attracted to anything being developed as of lately, C is correct. This isn’t a “fascist” building, (muh italians) and I’m sure the architects never intended it to appear in that fashion. This has order, hierarchy, and a way of pulling your eyes up by its tall windows. That’s a start. If you look around, you’d find that many buildings look fascist since many of them were built in the Art Deco / 1920s era, or take on features of order and classical geometry. Should we demo these since they are offense to a chosen few?
        THAT would be unforgivable, but that’s happening all the time now.

        Beautiful buildings that hold our city’s history and cultural integrity are being destroyed to make way for new, cheap buildings whose facades won’t last 30 years. Our most prominent buildings are bank buildings, what the heck! Architects should be looking at the Book Tower in Detroit, or the Merchant Theater in our own Old Town for inspiration in these areas. Thankfully, this building is actually tasteful compared to the glazed, and abstract-looking, modernist buildings that cover the developed NW area. Albeit, if that is how anyone pictures the ideal downtown Portland area will look in the next half century, they probably should not be here.

  2. Is there a proper name for the style associated with architecture from the fascist days? I’m curious. I love some examples of such architecture, e.g. the terminal at Berlin-Templehof. Obviously I deplore the government and system it was meant to glorify but I do love the building.

    As far as this tower goes—it looks pretty nice. I think the better question for these detractors to focus on is why the height is higher than the rest of the neighborhood. I support taller buildings in general…but would such an aberration from the height of existing bulidings detract from the neighborhood? In this case I doubt it considering I never thought Old Town/Chinatown had loads of charm…but I do not live there.

  3. And there is a tough question that the city seems most comfortable avoiding: Considering the proportion of the district’s buildings, businesses, and population that can reasonably be identified as Chinese in some way, is it reasonable to talk about an Old Town/China town character that new buildings are to preserve? I value keeping significant reminders of the past around, both as individual structures and as historic districts, and am familiar with the wonderful China towns of New York and San Francisco. I wish Portland had some equivalent, especially since we once had such a large and vital China Town ourselves. But I’m afraid Portland’s salvage efforts of the present have come too long after a savage and neglectful past that sought to eradicate Chinese influence. Laudable aspirations are not always realistic. I doubt the city can get much better than this building for this site.

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