Nov 8, 2017

Central Eastside: A Magnet for Tech, Makers and Creatives

Why are so many creative agencies and early startup tech companies moving to the Central Eastside? Is it the architecture? The space to grow? Location? Affordable rent? The answer is yes — to it all — with a few other variables at play. Like the Pearl District before it was transformed into the neighborhood it is today, Central Eastside still offers large, quirky office space with lots of industrial character.

“Large open spaces, high ceilings and beautiful, old timber frame construction that’s revealed when stripped down and exposed — those are all things that attract people looking for a creative space,” said Skip Newberry, President and CEO of the Technology Association of Oregon.

The Creative Industrial Community

Who seeks out these creative Central Eastside spaces? Portland’s old-school maker community. Numerous organizations in the district have operated continuously throughout the decades.

“There’s small batch prototyping going on, and more recently, makerspaces have added into that mix,” said Newberry. “For certain types of tech companies, you have almost a living lab type of environment.”

At Conveyor, much like the Technology Association of Oregon, we moved our offices to this neighborhood from downtown to be a part of the creative industrial community. Even our name pays homage to the district’s simple, sturdy, industrial ethic. There’s something cool about being set here on the sunny streets in the middle of all types of people working. There’s a coffee roaster, a produce company, a tile maker, a plumbing supply yard and a brewery all just a few steps from each other.

Lessons from The Peal District

The Pearl District 20 years ago still had that grit, the cheap rent and the large spaces. All of these factors helped drive artists, creatives and restaurants — all of them on the edgy side. Those traits exist now in the Central Eastside, but for how long?

“One of the big existential questions is, ‘do you end up with a relatively homogenous set of offerings and amenities here over time if it continues to see the escalation in commercial rents?’” said Newberry. “‘And if those rents continue to escalate, does it lose its edge? Does it lose its attractiveness and that heterogeneity?”

When Conveyor moved here, sure, the spaces were rougher and rawer, and that’s OK for makers and creatives who want a little more edge. There are also gorgeous new buildings being constructed and top-notch renovations of existing structures. But rents are going up for the smaller shops while global companies are moving in. The Central Eastside is transitioning from its roots as a diamond in the rough.

For now, at least, you can still find interesting, attractive office space inhabited by companies manufacturing, developing and designing products. There are still creative shops developing websites and agencies creating one-of-a-kind campaigns and digital work. The neighborhood will continue to allow for experimentation with an edge as it evolves.

“There are some interesting possibilities on the horizon for the Central Eastside,” said Newberry.