Tom Moyer, developer of downtown's Fox Tower, will announce today that he intends to start construction this fall on a $150 million high-rise office tower that could add long-sought retail vitality to a sleepy midtown section of downtown.
The Park Avenue West tower would contain 35 stories of offices, retail and condominiums on a half-sized block that many have hoped could someday become one of several new park blocks connecting the North and South Park Blocks. The 410-foot-tall tower, if built today, would be the fourth-tallest building in Oregon, peeking over the Moyer-owned Fox Tower and the 387-foot PacWest Center, currently the fourth tallest.
"It's a good, underdeveloped block in town," Moyer said Thursday. "It's one block off Broadway. It's a good retail area. It's an opportunity to invest a little money there."
Moyer helped found the Park Blocks Foundation, which had launched an attempt a few years ago to link the South and North park blocks together with open space and retail. That attempt met resistance from some historic preservationists who objected to razing National Register historic buildings in the path of the blocks.
"I'm sad and disappointed that we lose the chance to have that block as open space for the next 100 years or so," said Jim Westwood, foundation president. "My great-grandchildren are going to have to carry on, I guess."
Moyer's TMT Development and another Moyer company bought the site for the new tower last week from the Zell family. Known as Park Block 4 or the Zell Block, it is best known for the Zell Bros. jewelry store and the Virginia Cafe, among other retail.
Moyer, 87, was once a Portland-area theater chain owner. But in recent decades, he has plowed a fortune into building high-rise office towers downtown and suburban retail centers.
With his Park Avenue West proposal, many in real estate said Moyer could repeat the accomplishment of building a high-rise without the advance leasing commitments most developers need to convince a bank to loan.
By the time it was finished in 2000, the Fox Tower was 93 percent leased.
"I likened the Fox Tower to a perfect storm," said Michael Holzgang, a veteran downtown office broker with the Colliers International firm. "I think there's another perfect storm in the offing."
Pending city approval, Moyer said he would start construction on 280,000 square feet of Class A office space --about 14 floors --even without a commitment from a tenant.
At least three other developers have been marketing downtown-area high-rise office tower proposals, but not one has been able to secure an anchor tenant willing to agree to pay the $35-a-square-foot rent that new construction would require.
Equity Office Properties Trust, the largest office building owner in the nation and the Portland area, has said for more than a year that it would not start a building without an anchor tenant.
The announcement of Moyer's intentions will be a significant blow to Equity's First and Main building and other projects, Holzgang said.
"Tom has certainly proven he has vision and an uncanny sense of timing," Holzgang said.
Greg Goodman, one of downtown's largest landowners and developers, applauded the show of moxie on Moyer's part.
"It's going to be an identity piece for Portland," Goodman said. "Tom builds quality stuff. He's in it for the long term."
Moyer's companies paid $13.5 million for the 20,000-square-foot block, or about $675 a square foot. That far surpasses the $7.6 million, or $190 a square foot, that Equity Office paid for its block at the foot of the Hawthorne Bridge.
The Park Avenue West project is expected to include 85 condos on its upper floors and three floors of retail space starting on the first floor. It also would have 350 parking spaces that Moyer said he would like to connect to the parking under construction on Park Block 5, just south of the site.