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NoMa has lofty ambitions

by Jay Hamburger OF THE RECORD STAFF

When the silver-mining industry dominated Park City, the lumberyards ruled Bend, Ore.

Years later, the government, businesspeople and developers in Bend are trying to re-energize the area the timber industry once occupied, now known as the Old Mill District.

Lofts, software studios, boutiques and restaurants line the streets, making the district a hotspot, people in Bend report.

"When I came here in ’88, there was hardly anything happening, culturally, in Bend on the level I would like. That has changed dramatically," says Bob Sant, a pottery artist with a studio in the Old Mill Marketplace, a building in the district where artists, an interior-design shop and a florist have gathered.

In Bend, remaking the district is the city’s version of what has become a national trend: renovate old warehouses into lofts, open art galleries, restaurants and boutiques, either in the same buildings or nearby, and, critically, attract a hip crowd wanting to live there.

It is a movement that is reminiscent of what people like Rodman Jordan want to accomplish in Park City, in the North of Main district. Locally, Jordan and others see the district, sometimes called NoMa, as what could someday be Park City’s trendy place.

There have been comparisons to neighborhoods like SoHo in New York and SoMa in San Francisco but so far the local district, which was ignored as a destination for Parkites and visitors for years, has not generated the same buzz.

The NoMa district, centered along Bonanza Drive, has attracted a few restaurants, galleries and shops but it has not become the hopping spot Jordan envisions. That hinges largely on his development plans, delayed as City Hall considers a package of zoning changes in the district.

Likening what NoMa may become to places like SoHo, perhaps America’s most famously hip neighborhood, full of pricey galleries, celebrities and soaring real-estate prices, may seem overly ambitious but NoMa reasonably could someday resemble Bend’s mill district.

Bend, with about 75,000 people and sitting along the Deschutes River, near the Mt. Bachelor mountain resort, has a feel more recognizable to Parkites, with outdoors lovers and athletes living there, enjoying the climate and the recreational opportunities.

"It’s almost like a new city popping up in five years," Sant says about the mill district.

NoMa’s stalled

The NoMa efforts stretched through 2006 but stalled toward the end of the year, as City Hall officials could not agree on issues such as how tall buildings should be and became worried about the makeup of the retailers that might open in NoMa someday.

During the discussions, many people were happy with the district’s potential, saying NoMa could boost Main Street by bringing more people to the city, not compete with Park City’s most famous shopping and entertainment destination.

But others were leery of the plans, especially worrying about the possibility of taller buildings. Some were concerned that a popular NoMa could funnel business from Main Street.

Bruce Erickson, the City Hall-hired consultant who is assisting the local government consider the zoning changes, expects that he will restart discussions with the Planning Commission as early as March.

Erickson, who once served on the city’s Planning Commission, says Jordan’s idea of a loft community, with residences atop retailers, depends on whether people in Park City want that sort of lifestyle. There are few such arrangements now in the city, where people typically live in houses, condominiums or apartments, separated from retailers and restaurants. Young professionals and empty nesters, Erickson says, could be interested.

"The big question is whether the people who are attracted to loft-style living can be attracted to Park City," Erickson says, adding, "My question is where are the people going to come from. Are they really going to live in this district" or work there.

In Bend, a developer in the mill district says that has occurred in his Mill Quarter project. Aaron Lafky, the developer, says sales of his lofts and townhouses have remained strong even as the market slightly slumped.

The first phase of Mill Quarter adds 31 dwellings and about 10,000 square feet of retail space, both in converted older buildings and new ones.

"As a developer, it’s a commitment to an aesthetic value and a lifestyle. You’re creating a place," Lafky says, describing what he sees as the importance of mixing the residences with coffeehouses and other businesses.

Jordan, the NoMa leader, knows of Bend’s efforts but he has never been to the city. He says, though, the Park City district is similar to the one in Bend.

Both have an industrial past, with NoMa once on a railroad line and silver-mining operations surrounding the neighborhood.

"The operative element is not mining or forestry," he says, comparing Park City and Bend. "The operative element is industrial neighborhoods, warehouse neighborhoods."

He adds that NoMa’s future could be similar to that of the Bend district.

"The only thing we can do is recycle neighborhoods. That’s what happened in Bend and that’s what’s going to happen in NoMa," Jordan says.

Jordan wants NoMa to offer brick-building residences with high ceilings and wood floors, standard loft- or flat-style construction. He plans to design the units to look like a loft community and expects to use old brick and timber in the construction.

Two-thirds would be for sale and the rest for rent and Jordan expects the sale prices in his projects will average about $500,000, with the more expensive ones approaching $1 million. Housing set aside for workers would be included, he says.

"Much of Old Town or Prospector, you would say, our fellow citizens have been displaced by the cost of living," Jordan says. "Lost living is what gives rise to loft living."


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