We have done several stories at the Hillsboro Herald in the past four years that have covered the historic Downtown Business District in Hillsboro, Oregon. The predictions we made both before and after the fire are coming to pass and this is the inflection year- one that will bring permanent change. The ebb and flow of our old town has been ongoing since the city was platted in 1843 by David Hill on his Donation Land Claim. He named it Colombus and had big plans for the town but died before they ever got off the ground. The townsfolk renamed it Hillsborough in 1849, and later the town was renamed Hillsboro. Until the 1970s, the citizens of Hillsboro relied on the downtown area as the center for shopping and interaction. Then as central locations like Beaverton Mall, Tanasbourne Mall, Washington Square, and others took center stage, the downtown core died. There have been some hits and misses these last 50 years but the comeback has never been complete.
This year is the year we find out if the massive investments by the City of Hillsboro, private developers, and the decades of work by many of the old-time business owners truly pay off. The ideas and plans of several projects have now entered final construction stages and by year-end or early 2024, things will never be the same. The hope is that these new players will bring new energy and customers downtown and that all will benefit. That will require a lot of new folks because the pool of new offerings is quite extensive. One element still haunts these downtown blocks when compared to proven successes like Orenco Station and that is people! Not many consumers live within a walkable distance of this area, which will require work and additional development. Adding to the sparse population in the surrounding neighborhoods is the shrinking parking supply which we hear about daily from consumers visiting our office and other local businesses. The City has the key to that problem and can use Urban Renewal funds to go vertical on lots they own and control for their employees- or the City staff could shuttle or find parking outside the core to free up needed space. These issues will be resolved in time.
Times are nonetheless exciting and where there is a will, there is a way, I always say. So let’s look at the newest players coming to Downtown Hillsboro; a dynamic group, if there ever was one. It appears that this is going to be the start of something very good.
Merrill Gardens Senior Living
This massive project will anchor the corner of 4th and Main Street. Senior luxury studio apartments will sit over the top of some new ground floor commercial spaces, which will feature retail and food offerings Rents will be as high or higher than anything ever paid before in Downtown Hillsboro. Approximately 150 units will be offered and rents have been rumored in the $5K to $9K a month range which is full service with some memory care rooms. A rooftop patio and clubhouse is included. We believe these new residents will bring investment, consumer spending, and great new vibrancy in the Downtown core. The project will open in 2024 and the exterior will be finished very soon.
Sparkelly Homes – 133 SE 3rd Avenue- Hillsboro
This fantastic family has just moved into the downtown core from their store, which was on TV Highway. They have home furnishings, procured items, and vintage furniture. This is a great store and is very unique. They have things you will not see anywhere else. Check them out- their website is right here!
Favi’s Fabulous Cakes – 301 East Main Street- Former Subway
Favi is a town favorite and her new retail bakery is home to her bake shop. This local girl has mad talent and is a superb human being! From cupcakes and treats you can purchase at the counter to fantastic wedding and party cakes, Favi’s has it all! I am wowed by what she does with pastry. Go check her out, folks! Follow her on Instagram right here!
Weils Food Cart Park – Rising Up From Fire Site – mid block between 2nd and 3rd On Main Street
Permitting took a while on this worthy project but it is happening now! Jay Weil and his family lost their historic building that graced downtown Hillsboro for 100 years before a fire of epic proportions leveled the building and crippled the block just 18 months ago. Before this 10-unit upscale food cart pod is done, it should become the gathering spot downtown. Outdoor-covered eating areas, pavilions, and a small pub will work in concert with good parking and location. We can not wait until this one gets done and opened up! Read up right here-
Blue Ox Axe Throwing – Pub And Entertainment Center –
264 East Main Street – https://www.instagram.com/blueoxaxe_hillsboro/
This one is close to my heart as this business owner came to Hillsboro to see a historic building in absolute shambles that I had listed for lease. After several meetings, hearing the story of Downtown Hillsboro, and meeting with the local owners from Roll Tide Properties, Lani Oversage, and his wife, jumped in and committed. After that, it was up to David Vandehey, Chris Tews, and their partners to pull off a miracle and make the old Copperstone Bar / Clarks building a place that could host an axe-throwing pub! Oh, boy, have they- and on August 15th, you can see it all unfold! This will be quite a fun and unique business and should draw people from all over the west side of Portland.
Puppernickel Doggy BarKery – 244 East Main Street
Krystal Monroe- https://www.puppernickel.com/
Not a new business, but a new location and spectacular new store worthy of a major shoutout! Now open in their new space on Main Street, Puppernickel has made it to Main Street off of 3rd and into a bigger, more robust space! Check them out for all your Dog needs – especially the baked goodies and cakes – and a wide variety of other fun items! Congrats to them for the new spot!
Khantoke Thai Kitchen – 250 East Main – Former Thai House Is Now Open and #KILLINGIT – https://www.thaihousekhantoke.com/
The Thai House has always had great Thai Food but the new owners have changed the name, redecorated, and taken this to the next level! If it has been a while since you have been, or if you have never been, you must go! This place is making incredible Thai Food and the word is out. See what Neil from #SkyWaterWines in downtown Hillsboro had to say:
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New Murals – Main Street Commons- 2nd and Main
Setting the stage for the Main Street Commons at 2nd and Main are new murals going up. With various themes, these new public art installments are thought-provoking and colorful. The Main Street Commons will be home to Backwoods Brewing, Grand Central Bakery, and Sizzle Pie. Both heralded Portland eateries are open and crushing it so far! Welcome to Hillsboro!
Former Four Seasons Bowling Alley – Soon to be a new Event Space and Indian Restaurant
The old bowling alley and Sports Look closed as the pandemic ended- and picking up the building is a new group that is doing a very large event space and Indian restaurant. We saw signs going up today for the restaurant. It is coming and word is the food is expected to be very good and that the event space will be used for various functions! This should be a good thing for downtown.
Get out and check out #1) all our existing businesses. These people made downtown Hillsboro a hot spot and the center of something really great. They did it without large financial grants and giveaways (like the $1 Million plus the Portland Developer doing the Main Street Commons got from the City). The leaders and voices of downtown exist within their stores and offices. Support them in any way that you can. #2) This new wave is riding in with some fantastic energy – and we will all embrace them 110% and then some. It is exciting and we welcome them all for decades to come!
In closing, this is a time of reflection regarding design and what we want. Some of the bigger things happening downtown have no historic design aspects to them. While towns like Forest Grove, Sisters, and Oregon City have historic districts and design criteria, Hillsboro does not. It is long overdue that the City Council and planning staff consider this- if not, we will end up with more modern glass multi-stories than anything that resembles our historical roots. And many people in power and on the street say they want that. Not me- and not many I speak to.
A lot of messaging from people in power use the phrase “Historic Downtown Hillsboro” but toss it around like change dumped in the cup holder in the car. We have no right to say that if we do not care about those words or defend their use. This is a point for thought and discussion.
What do you want downtown to be like going ahead?
One last thought – we are watching the gentrification of downtown. As new investments come in, rents will rapidly rise, and we could quickly lose some of our long-term legacy businesses. This is why we must be VERY CAREFUL about how we hand out public money to developers- in trying to stimulate downtown, we can create a situation where those monies are creating an environment where higher rents become the norm and in the end, everyone suffers. It is a cautious balancing act to be equitable to everyone- and not destroy the lives of those that built the city.
Hope to see you all out there!