Smarter Development – Tigard, Oregon Delivers Growth and Care for its Citizens

City of Tigard, OR

The need for efficient land usage and affordable housing weighs heavy on urban development everywhere. From its incorporation in 1961, Tigard, Oregon has grown from a Portland suburb to a thriving urban center with a population of over 50,000. With strong development assistance programs already in progress and others in the works, the town is just getting started.

One of Tigard’s main advantages for development stems from its location in Oregon itself, which boasts a unique planning and land use system. In this system, each city and metropolitan area has an ‘urban growth boundary,’ which seeks to limit urban sprawl and necessitate denser and more efficient land usage.

As a result, Tigard has grown out of Portland’s shadow to create an identity all its own. The town’s location, surrounded by the bustling I-5, Highway 217 and Pacific Highway corridors, has also been a boon. Tigard has consistently offered lower property taxes than Portland, while still providing easy access to the downtown area. “It’s gone from being a bedroom community of Portland to being a city with an identity of our own,” says Dylan Dekay-Bemis, Tigard’s Economic Development Coordinator.

Downtown development
Now in his third year as the town’s Economic Development Coordinator, Dekay-Bemis and his colleagues have helped lead programs to grow and redevelop Tigard’s downtown by bringing and retaining new residents and attracting new business investment.

The first of these is the Urban Renewal program, founded in 2006 with the voter-approved formation of the City Center Urban Renewal Area. Urban renewal utilizes tax increment financing to help fund the development vision for downtown Tigard. With a maximum indebtedness of $22 million over twenty years, this program is transforming Tigard’s downtown area into a thriving mixed-use district and entertainment hub. Boasting quality restaurants, retail outlets and art installations, urban renewal has helped the downtown area attract new development and usage.

Now, Dekay-Bemis believes the program has proved the downtown area’s economic viability: “I’d say we’re at the point where we’re starting to get more known in the region and able to attract some of the businesses that make for a healthy, diverse and really interesting downtown.”

From downtown to Heritage Trail
In addition to the urban renewal tax increment financing allocation, public and private contributions bring the total amount invested in the downtown area to nearly $67 million. This proves not only the project’s viability but its warm reception by Tigard’s business community. The objective is a simple one, explains Dekay-Bemis: “Really, one of the future goals is to make the downtown area an interesting place where people want to be.”

An offshoot of this downtown redevelopment plan is the Tigard Street Heritage Trail. Originally, it was a temporary, three-quarter mile pathway linking one of Tigard’s manufacturing corridors to the downtown district. But in 2016, the town received a $700,000 grant from the Oregon Transportation Commission to make the path permanent.

Today, the City of Tigard is working to make the Trail a safe, active transportation corridor and a cultural draw. The city intends the Trail to be a gateway into Tigard’s newly revitalized downtown. Now with a $75,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts to add an Outdoor Museum and $35,000 in Washington County Visitor’s Association grant funding courtesy of the Tigard Downtown Alliance, the Trail is well-poised to become a shining example of an active transportation corridor between Downtown and an employment center.

Bolstering business
The well-being and growth of Tigard’s business community is also of paramount importance. To meet this challenge, the town has launched the Tigard-Lake Oswego Enterprise Zone, so named for its two comprising towns. In exchange for a three- to five-year tax abatement on new investment, participating companies will contribute over $10 million in capital investments and will also invest in new local hiring, ensuring job growth.

The city is already home to such companies as Gerber Legendary Blades, Consumer Cellular, and Agilyx. REECE Complete Security Solutions, one of Oregon’s 30 fastest-growing companies, will be moving its headquarters facility to Tigard next year. “We’re really happy to have them moving here, and having the Enterprise Zone program was instrumental in their decision to move to Tigard,” Dekay-Bemis reports.

Triangle renewal
The third major area primed for improvement is a 550-acre area northeast of downtown, known as the Tigard Triangle for its geographic shape. Despite it being the same size as Downtown Portland, the Triangle is underdeveloped, plagued with broken sewer lines, lack of public infrastructure and little to no housing or amenities. Despite these shortcomings the Triangle is home to some of Tigard’s major employers, including Consumer Cellular, Costco and Walmart.

In 2017, Tigard voters authorized the Tigard Triangle Urban Renewal Area, which allows for tax increment financing to fund redevelopment in the Triangle. Also in 2017, the Tigard City Council adopted the Tigard Triangle Lean Code, a streamlined building code to help accelerate the development of a pedestrian-friendly mixed-use area. Utilizing tax increment financing (TIF), the area will not only support existing businesses but also improve local infrastructure, provide new modes of transportation and spur new business and housing developments.

Final goal
This final goal is among Tigard’s most vital. Dekay-Bemis and his colleagues are well aware of the tragically increasing lack of affordable housing in the Portland area. Tigard itself is considered a rent burdened city with over 28 percent of residents spending over 50 percent of their income on rent/mortgages. While Tigard is not facing anything like the size of Portland’s problem, the city is taking immediate measures to provide a range of affordable housing options to its citizens.

Tigard’s Vertical Housing Development Zone is developing new mixed-use housing for both single and multiple families. One such project, the Attwell off Main development in downtown Tigard, comprises 165 market-rate units in a four-story building, thereby providing quality housing while maximizing land usage. “We really hadn’t had any development of that type in downtown before,” Dekay-Bemis says, “so it’s been a catalytic project to demonstrate to the greater development community that this type of project has a place in Tigard.”

This new housing and others like it leases very quickly, proving the demand is there. Three additional affordable housing projects are also in development, to provide over 300 units in the Tigard Triangle, downtown urban renewal area and nearby Hunziker Industrial Core.

New housing options
The successful completion of these new housing projects, Dekay-Bemis hopes, will attract more developers to the area. For its part, the City Council is waiving existing system development charges for affordable housing projects – further streamlining the construction of affordable units.

City Council also recently approved amendments to the Tigard Development Code allowing for a wider range of housing types within the city, with the goal of providing more “missing middle” housing types including Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs), cottage clusters and quads. These code amendments help homeowners and developers increase density by maximizing land usage and efficiency. By allowing for a greater range of housing options, Dekay-Bemis believes Tigard’s Housing Options strategies will help alleviate the growing concern of housing affordability. “By providing for a wider range of housing types to be built, we are helping increase our overall housing stock, which… will help bring down the overall price and increase affordability in the city.”

In addition to these programs, Tigard is fortunate to have three Opportunity Zones within its limits. Designated and operated by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) at the federal level, these zones provide preferential tax treatment in a concerted effort to spark new growth and development.

Looking ahead
As the city looks to the future, Dekay-Bemis admits the work is far from complete. He looks forward to furthering the downtown area’s refurbishment, while also bringing new housing options, particularly to the Tigard Triangle. He remarks how most housing options in town are currently single-family homes on single lots, so this new change will be highly atypical. Combined with new commercial and infrastructure improvements, the area is poised for new development. “I think we’re going to see a lot more development in the Tigard Triangle,” he sums up. “It’s going to be a second city center.”

With these programs, Tigard will be better equipped to handle the influx of new residents that have been moving to the Portland region as of late. The proposed Southwest Corridor light rail extension would link Tigard and surrounding areas to downtown Portland is currently in the works, though funding must still be raised both locally and federally. Once that link provides faster and environmentally kinder access to Portland, it will be yet another indication of Tigard’s growing prominence in the area.

Rapid growth is “really taking off in Tigard,” Dekay-Bemis says, explaining how Oregon’s unique land-use dynamics allow for more efficient and environmentally-responsible land usage. “I think it makes for more unique and interesting places.”

September 15, 2019, 4:40 PM EDT