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26 story condo tower coming to DT Portland

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Downtown gets in on hot condo scene

Heidi J. Stout

Business Journal staff writer

Portland's tallest new glass-and-steel condominium tower isn't in the Pearl District. It isn't in North Macadam. It's downtown, where the Simon Benson house once stood.

Canadian developer Eric van Doorninck is preparing to kick off construction of the 26-story Benson Tower at 1500 S.W. 11th Avenue in November. The 156-unit condominium tower will be finished in the summer of 2005.

"There's a great national resurgence of urban living," said van Doorninck, who lives in a condominium tower in downtown Vancouver, British Columbia. "People are realizing it's fun, and can be economical, to live in the heart of the city. I think the Pearl District is showing a lot of people, young and old, that they don't need to live in the suburbs."

The Benson Tower is expected to cost approximately $30 million, and van Doorninck said he is still working out the financing. He plans to submit applications for excavation permits next month, then apply for building permits.

With a mix of 58 one-bedroom units, 92 two-bedrooms and six penthouses, about 75 percent of the Benson Tower's condominiums will be priced less than $300,000, and 37 percent will be sold for less than $200,000.

Van Doorninck's building, designed by Hancock, Bruckner, Eng + Wright of Vancouver, British Columbia, and led locally by MCA Architects of Portland, is a tall, slender tower rising out of a tidy little 13,000-square-foot lot. The small lot and slim building allowed designers to build an efficient floorplate with minimal common areas on the residential levels--devoting more space to the units' interiors.

The 250-foot-tall building--designed to the maximum height allowed by Portland codes--includes a 130-foot water feature that surrounds the ground floor lobby on three sides and looks like a stream running from the south end of the property to the north. It ends in a pool at the corner of Southwest 11th Avenue and Clay Street.

Residents will enter the condominium by crossing a bridge that spans the stream. The water aspect is fitting for a building sharing Simon Benson's name, the timber baron who commissioned Portland's distinctive bubbling water fountains.

Unlike most new condominium towers, which integrate retail space in the ground floor, the Benson Tower's ground floor lobby is built for building residents. "I didn't want to put in a bunch of retail space, not knowing who the tenants would be," van Doorninck said. "I wanted to make the building as beautiful for the people owning it as possible."

He also hopes the water feature and 6,800 square feet of landscaping and other street-level improvements will be an amenity for Portland's Cultural District--the area near Portland's performing arts center and art museum.

Van Doorninck has been tinkering with the mix of small and large units planned in the Benson Tower. He initially planned 82 one-bedrooms and 80 two-bedrooms, but he tipped the scale in favor of larger units to serve a market that he believes will prefer them.

The larger units are also more economical to build. "It's really expensive to build really small units in terms of price per square foot," van Doorninck said. "My attempt is to provide some reasonably priced for-sale units. I'm trying to get as many affordable units as possible." A sales office opens next spring.

Van Doorninck has been involved in Portland-area real estate development since 1992, when he converted some Johns Landing apartments to the condominium community Heron Point. He was also involved in the partnership that created Irving Street Lofts. "I like Portland," he said. "I think it's a very livable, nice clean city."

Van Doorninck is confident that the condominium market will remain stable during the 20-month construction period needed to complete the Benson Tower. "I think more choice out there is better for the consumer," he said. "I think consumers will realize there is a choice, that they don't have to just settle for one product."

He believes the Benson Tower will be successful because "the location is phenomenal." It is just steps from Portland State University and the South Park Blocks, and on the Portland Streetcar line. Although residents could likely live car-free, van Doorninck will build four levels of underground parking to house their vehicles and earn bonus building height allowances.

"I think this is a better downtown location than the Pearl District, where you have to ride the streetcar or it's a 15-minute walk to get downtown. Here, you're here. This product is designed for the person who works downtown," he said.

Construction of the Benson Tower has not yet gone out for bids, but van Doorninck said he intends to hire many local vendors and subcontractors.

"This design has worked so well in Vancouver, we're importing it to Portland," van Doorninck said. "I think there will be many, many, many slender towers in the future Portland skyline, with views and the latest amenities."

More information is available at www.bensontower.com.

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Guest donaltopablo

I was gonna post that pic, but figured I'd wait until I could have pulled just the rendering out of the website rather than the entire opening page. But that works :)

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