Union Way's New Path from Powells to the Ace
A glimpse of downtown's intriguing new "Parisian" passage
From the ancient bazaars of the Middle East to the supermalls of Middle America, one truth endures: put a big store at each end of a hallway and people will spend money at little stores in between.
Developer Tom Cody and architect Thomas Robinson now bring the principle to downtown Portland with a skylit, shop-lined passageway, punched through two defunct bars. One entrance faces SW Stark Street’s Ace Hotel block and its complex of restaurants; the other aims at Burnside’s international beehive, Powell’s Books.
Cody and Robinson hope “Union Way” will buzz with handpicked retailers and eateries. The risk? The space could fall flat and become desolate. (See: The Galleria, 1990s–2010s.) The potential? Union Way could wed a crooked Parisian backstreet’s romance to the West End’s gritty glam.
“For much less money, we could have blown these buildings up and built new ones,” Cody says. “But the magic behind this project is the juxtaposition of the old and the new.
The Gates Inspired by the wrought iron that guards many Parisian alleyways, both entrances will feature handcrafted, shiny steel gates that allow passersby to see down Union Way even when it’s closed. The project also nods to Japanese cities’ narrow, bustling side streets.
The Floor “Fundamentally, we want people to come through,” Cody says, “almost like a shortcut through the city.” The floor will be the same sandblasted concrete as the sidewalks outside, and two large neon signs will direct visitors: “This Way To Stark,” and “This Way To Burnside.”
The Ceiling Ten skylights let light flood in. Wooden trusses will crisscross below the roof, flying through interior windows that open into the shops. Overall, the project unites two distinct structural systems—not to mention downtown’s clashing, differently angled street grids.
The Feeling The partners considered five possible plans, some of which would have clustered large retail spaces on one side of the ’Way. “But when we looked at the Paris-style alley, the key was to have activity on both sides,” Robinson says. They packed in nine shops, ranging from 180 to 1,200 square feet, and two restaurants.
The Culture “Ideally,” Cody says, “we are providing something civic in nature, that will live beyond our involvement.” At press time, Stumptown’s Duane Sorenson and Sam Huff of Tanner Goods were considering the Stark-side restaurant space, and New York retailer Steven Alan, San Francisco’s Self Edge denim, and local Spruce Apothecary were set to move in.