In Fry’s view, fealty to on-the-ground reality has gently steered the district to its present state, where old and new coexist. Unlike the add-water-and-stir urban renewal of South Waterfront, the Central Eastside is "a neighborhood growing on its own terms," Fry argues.
"I’ve basically been advocating that the district, in any document, cross out the word ‘manufacturing’ and put in the word ‘production,’" he says. "Production can mean you’re opening a new brewery, or it may mean you’re making software. Whatever it is, that’s what the Central Eastside is about. Planners talk about mixed-use—well, this is the real mixed-use, and it’s bringing a whole area back to life. The Olympic Mills building probably used to have 10 warehouse guys in it during working hours. Now there are 300 people showing up to work there every day."
"The Central Eastside seemed almost abandoned when we moved in 21 years ago. Now it’s a destination for home remodeling. The city was smart to loosen the industrial zoning, but to also not let it become another Pearl District."
—Michael Pratt (with wife and partner Reta Larson), co-owner, Pratt & Larson
So what’s next? The current pace of change could certainly experience a rapid acceleration. If that happens, will this rough-hewn neighborhood keeps its independence and hands-on grit?
"We work hard to say what we are and that we need to stay this way," says Juliana Lukasik, vice president of the Central Eastside Industrial Council, the neighborhood’s feisty business association. "Don’t mess with it. Our industrial businesses tend to be somewhat nervous about change, and they have every right to be, because the conditions that allow them to exist here are somewhat delicate and could easily change. And what we’ve seen in the history of development interest in the neighborhood is that many development entities are more interested in their own agendas than in the health of the district."
Interestingly, Lukasik herself owns not a machine shop, warehouse, or factory, but a commercial production studio on the district’s northeastern fringe. Her company, @Large Films, makes commercials for Nintendo and Nike, among others. Thus, she is simultaneously an elected voice of the Central Eastside’s old-line industries and a symbol of its multifarious, creative new direction. The neighborhood’s organic hybrid of these wildly different business cultures results not from old-style urban-renewal engineering, but rather a sort of biological development model, in which diversity breeds resilience.
"We’re just kind of growing on our own," Lukasik says of the neighborhood. "A lot of cool stuff is happening, and I love that it’s becoming a 24/7 environment where you can find a great bar next door to a factory or, you know, an advertising studio. What is happening here is unique in the country. So let’s not ruin it."