PSU students fly high rethinking airport master plan
Hillsboro Airport's main business may be aviation, but two groups of Portland State University graduate students think there's room to add other amenities, from a food incubator to a brewpub to a training ground for a women's roller derby team.
The students were handed the task of brainstorming a master plan for the airport for a capstone workshop project in PSU's Master of Real Estate Development Program. Working in groups of five or six, the students were directed to come up with ideas for commercial approaches that would expand the use of the airport property while creating better connections between the airport, Washington County and area residents.
With 205,000 flights in 2017, the Hillsboro airport is Oregon's second busiest airport. Started in 1928 as a private airfield, the Port of Portland assumed ownership in 1966. Intel is one of the airport's main clients, with 130,000 corporate flights per year. The airport also includes 25 aviation businesses, which drum up about $100 million in revenue.
While the students' assignment was a pure academic exercise, it had roots in reality. In spring 2009, the port began a multiyear master plan effort with the selection of a preferred alternative expected later this year.
The students also were expected to back up their proposed plans, which they presented to four judges during a recent meeting of real estate and development professionals in Portland, with real-world data and research. They studied area market rates for leased buildings. They talked with officials with the city of Hillsboro and Washington County to determine that flex office space and small floor plates were in demand. They considered how projects at the nearby Hillsboro Fairgrounds, including an event center that's slated to break ground later this year and finish in 2020, might impact or influence commercial uses at the airport. One group even obtained a letter of interest from a brewing company they pitched their development plan to in a "what-if" scenario.
The two student groups came to similar conclusions in a couple of areas of their master plans. They both agreed, for example, that while a new hotel on the airport grounds might be a safe bet now, it might not be a smart choice by the time the project was completed.
"Hillsboro's hotel market is dependent on Portland's market," LaTaunynia Campbell, a member of the team took the name Viking Development, said. "That market is at or near peak."
Something old, something new
The teams also took care to incorporate two historic hangars on the airport property into their new development plans, while also calling for some new construction. But they differed in the best uses for the renovated and new structures.
One team felt the airport location would be perfect for a food incubator. The other team felt a renovated hanger would make an idea permanent home for a traveling exhibit created by Laika, the stop-motion animation studio based in Hillsboro. There was even a suggestion to create an aviation museum.
The PSU proposal competition has become an annual event through a partnership between Oregon NAIOP, the commercial real estate development association, the university and the owners of projects the students tackle. In previous years, students have tackled assignments such as rethinking uses for the Pearl District post office building and brainstorming options for several blocks in the city's Central Eastside.
While the event is a friendly competition, there's more than bragging rights and a trophy at stake. Eight of the 11 students who participated this year plan on staying in the Portland area when they graduate, so their presentations were as much about making a good showing in front of potential employers as they were about earning a grade — and a master's degree. Students also had a chance to meet and discuss their proposals with members of the local real estate and development community.
The judging panel that evaluates the student proposals also comes from the local professional community. This year's judges, who handed the trophy to the winning team of CAVU Partners, were Jeff Olson with Commercial Realty Advisors, Ken Anderton with the Port of Portland, Lauren Golden Jones with Capstone Partners, and Todd Sheaffer with Specht Development.
"I thought they paid good attention to detail," Anderton said about CAVU Partners' proposal. "They keyed in on honoring tradition, financing challenges and shared parking."