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City approves sale of Centennial Mills for $13M without requirement to preserve history of site

Board members voted unanimously Wednesday, approving a plan to sell the old mill site for about $13 million to California-based developers.

PORTLAND, Ore. — After years of back and forth, a city board has voted to approve the sale of the Centennial Mills site in Portland's Pearl District.

Portland Prosper is the economic and urban development agency for the city of Portland. 

Board members voted unanimously Wednesday, approving a plan to sell the old mill site for about $13 million to California-based developers Handson Equities LLC, Emma Corp. and MLR Ventures LLC.

Prosper Portland emphasized that the board selected the offer because one of the developers already has successful experience developing on the Portland waterfront.

The mill operated from 1910 to 2000 until the city acquired it, according to Prosper Portland. Since then, multiple deals have fallen through with other developers as the city strove to preserve the site's history.

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This latest potential deal would not require that history conservation.

"To make the site more viable and attractive to developers," explained Shawn Uhlman, a spokesperson for Prosper Portland.

Uhlman said Wednesday's vote does not represent a final sale. It simply opens the door to further negotiations and due diligence by developers before they decide to buy. It could take months before the sale is final, and even longer before neighbors in the Peal District know if the iconic water tower will remain or be torn down.

"It's difficult to say with certainty since the development team has yet to dive in," Uhlman said. "The opportunity here is pretty wide open."

Some residents in the Peal District hope the water tower, at least, remains preserved.

"It would be a real shame to lose the historic aspect," Amelia Deibler told KGW as she walked Fields Park across from Centennial Mills.

"Such an iconic building," agreed David Dysert of the Pearl District Neighborhood Association. "If the flour mill is torn down, there's no question it's a loss."

Dysert has testified to the city before about efforts to preserve the structure. He hopes if this latest bid goes through, that developers maintain the history while transitioning the property to mixed-use buildings.

"History will not look kindly on cities that continue to tear down the things that make them unique and that tell the story of that place," Dysert said. "There needs to be a balance, of course, of development and preservation, but when it comes to iconic, key buildings like this, we just have to roll up our sleeves and find a way."

Dysert explained the water tower itself is a symbol of the Pearl, even appearing on the district's street signs.

Credit: KGW
Street signs in Portland's Pearl District show the iconic Centennial Mills water tower.

Other neighbors also expressed hope for a middle ground.

"Outright demolition with no strings attached definitely seems like the wrong thing to do," said Mark Quaid, who has lived in the Pearl for two years. "Just more to keep the use of [the mill building] purposeful so it doesn't become decrepit." 

"I understand it's gotta be expensive to restore a building like that," Deibler said. "But it's worth the money to just keep the charm and history along the waterfront here."

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