Alta Planning moves into major downtown office building

The One Main Place building sits at the confluence of several green bike lanes on the west end of the Hawthorne Bridge at SW Main and 1st. (Photo: Jonathan Maus/BikePortland)

An urban planning firm that has played a major role in Portland’s reputation as progressive transportation epicenter over the past two decades has just raised their profile by moving into a new downtown office building.

According to Portland Business Journal, Alta Planning and Design will move its 60 local employees into the penthouse floor of the One Main Place tower at the western landing of the Hawthorne Bridge. That means they’ll be neighbors with TriMet, who leased 95,000 square feet in the same building in 2022. Alta currently works out of a building in the Central Eastside Industrial District.

The PBJ reports that Alta was drawn to space — not just because rent is cheap downtown these days — but because, as principal Katie Mangle puts it, “It was important to walk the talk.” Alta wants to be part of the movement to revitalize downtown Portland after years of bad PR following the racial justice protests, the pandemic, and a wave of public drug use, crime and homelessness that have kept many people away.

Alta Principal Katie Mangle (left) talks with Bike Happy Hour attendees in August 2023. (Photo: Jonathan Maus/BikePortland)

In a post on Linkedin last month, Mangle said they chose the location because of its direct access to the Better Naito bikeway and high-quality transit connections. The location is also in PBOT’s “Zero Emission Delivery Zone” and just a block from the busiest Biketown station in the entire city (across the street from Salmon Street Springs). Mangle says those perks (not to mention the views and great coffee and restaurants nearby) are part of their strategy to lure more employees into the office.

The move also puts Alta even closer to the City of Portland building and their longtime collaborators at the Portland Bureau of Transportation. Alta has completed many projects for the city over the years. They published a report on Portland’s bicycle economy in 2006, developed the 2030 Bicycle Plan, worked with PBOT on the Central City in Motion plan, and have consulted on numerous bicycling planning projects in Portland and across America. You might even have met Mangle at a Bike Happy Hour this past summer. She and a crew from Alta were soliciting feedback from attendees on behalf of PBOT’s public plaza program.

Former Alta CEO Mia Birk was PBOT bicycle coordinator from 1993-1999. When she joined Alta in 1999, the firm had just one office and two employees. Now the company boasts nearly 200 employees in offices throughout the U.S. and Canada.

Alta’s new office will be up and running in mid-December.

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)

Founder of BikePortland (in 2005). Father of three. North Portlander. Basketball lover. Car owner and driver. If you have questions or feedback about this site or my work, feel free to contact me at @jonathan_maus on Twitter, via email at maus.jonathan@gmail.com, or phone/text at 503-706-8804. Also, if you read and appreciate this site, please become a supporter.

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Todd/Boulanger
2 months ago

This is definitely a new era for Alta Planning Portland…I would love to see how their new “Bike SPA” is designed versus Scott Mizée’s 2007(?) edition with the paramount bike racking of the day.

In addition to the 60 staff, Alta Planning does also have a larger cadre of “associate” planning staff that work outside of its main offices that cycle through the Portland office from their project cities (in other countries too). As an example, our Abu Dhabi team would land at the Portland office for technical work while being managed out of the Berkeley office, etc. etc.

[And I learned something new…that Trimet has an office in downtown! I will now add them to my future employer list since I always avoided seeking work there due to the remoteness of their main office from Vancouver.]

Fred
Fred
2 months ago
Reply to  Todd/Boulanger

What?! – Trimet’s office was in Vancouver? That should be illegal.

BB
BB
2 months ago
Reply to  Fred

Reading comprehension is not your thing… That is not what he said at all.

Fred
Fred
2 months ago
Reply to  BB

That’s harsh. On second reading, I see how he could have rephrased the sentence to read: “the remoteness of their main office from my home in Vancouver.”

I guess I also couldn’t fathom why someone would want to live in Vancouver. 😉

Paul
Paul
2 months ago
Reply to  Fred

TriMet moved, but they stayed downtown. Their office previously was at SW 1st & Harrison.

Middle of the Road Guy
Middle of the Road Guy
2 months ago
Reply to  Todd/Boulanger

Flying around the world…but going to lecture us on carbon footprints.

“We apply sustainable thinking to plan, design, and build resilient multimodal networks to achieve the carbon reduction, climate mitigation, and adaptation goals of our client communities. At any scale or project phase, the Alta team offers a comprehensive set of climate-forward services. We are committed to helping communities reduce greenhouse gas emissions and become more resilient to the impacts of climate change. We believe every community has the right to plan for a greener future that reflects its unique needs. And we are committed to supporting sustainable best practices internally and externally to build a more resilient future.”

Charley
Charley
2 months ago

I’m really trying not to sound too snarky… but this Fox News cliche (“you are a hypocrite because you use an airplane *and* you’re advocating for solutions to climate change”) is tired. It brings nothing new, nothing practical, nothing that helps.

They created a successful business and have international clients and employees. What the **** do you expect them to do, paddle to Europe in a canoe?

Or maybe you think that the only people who are allowed to comment on the climate are the people who wear only homespun local cotton and eat only locally sourced dandelion greens.

Nah.

PS
PS
2 months ago
Reply to  Charley

When the people advocating for change aren’t willing to change and it is unreasonable to call them out for it, they are already doing nothing that helps.

On the scale of bringing nothing new, nothing practical, and nothing that helps, where would you place flying across the world to see how people ride their bikes in different places to then report back on how that is different from where you ride your bike?

Literally the least helpful thing is to scream about climate change where you live, then get on a plane to ride a black bike in Amsterdam. It is disqualifying from being able to have an opinion on climate change, or if advocates were as critical of that behavior as they are of calling it out, it would be.

Middle of the Road Guy
Middle of the Road Guy
2 months ago
Reply to  Charley

You are correct, everyone is a hypocrite on some level. But what is good for the goose is good for the gander. If you are going to forgive some but lecture others, you do lose some credibility. And you can’t argue that you are more credible than the other side when you do the same things.

zuckerdog
zuckerdog
2 months ago

Not to mention they will also benefit from the City’s new tax Incentive

https://www.portland.gov/revenue/business-tax/downtown-business-incentive-credit-program

surly ogre
surly ogre
2 months ago

Mid-December is in 10 days….

For the record
For the record
2 months ago

It’s worth noting that other great people-focused transportation firms — including (but not limited to!) Nelson Nygaard and Toole Design — have been downtown for years and have also played major roles in building Portland’s reputation as a progressive transportation epicenter.

A B
A B
2 months ago
Reply to  For the record

Came here to say this. Other firms too! Welcome Alta, thanks for joining us. We’re all working to make the city better.

Granpa
Granpa
2 months ago

I wish my downtown office would open back up. I used to ride to work every day and that was valuable therapy and exercise for me. Company leadership have determined the neighborhood (Chinatown area) is not safe and that’s a reasonable assumption.

Fred
Fred
2 months ago
Reply to  Granpa

Yep – a female employee at a firm that used to be in Old Town was punched in the face at the MAX stop outside of their building, by a man who demanded money. The firm moved out of Old Town.

Alex
Alex
2 months ago
Reply to  Granpa

Honestly, the only way things are going to get better is by having more traffic in those areas. This is sort of a self-fulfilling prophecy take on the problem.

Granpa
Granpa
2 months ago
Reply to  Alex

I don’t want to be the statistic, that last straw, that ultimately inspires The City of Portland to do its job in cleaning up the city and reducing crime

SolarEclipse
SolarEclipse
2 months ago
Reply to  Granpa

My company isn’t so enlightened. We have to work in Old Town/Chinatown and let’s just say a new experience (not always in a good way) every time I walk to my office from the bus or when I leave at night to catch the bus home. So your assumption is pretty spot on.
Pre-COVID co-workers have been attacked walking to their cars are even just out for a walk on a break.

John V
John V
2 months ago
Reply to  Granpa

I’m sure it couldn’t possibly be that the Company leadership realized they could save tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars a year by having people donate their homes as offices for free or putting an office somewhere less convenient for cheaper. I’m sure the Company leadership wouldn’t leave that out as the main reason for the change.

COVID got a lot of companies to try something they all thought wouldn’t work (working from home) and when they realized that it does work and saves a bunch of money, a lot of them are sticking with it.

Chris I
Chris I
2 months ago
Reply to  John V

My company just went full return to office after allowing remote and hybrid since 2020. Definitely a lot of variation out there.

Fred
Fred
2 months ago
Reply to  Chris I

My condolences.

Whyat Lee
Whyat Lee
2 months ago
Reply to  Fred

Why?

Chris I
Chris I
2 months ago
Reply to  Fred

I don’t mind it. I am more productive at the office, I’ve noticed. And my commute is easy. I’m probably not a typical case, though.

Granpa
Granpa
2 months ago
Reply to  John V

Your cynicism is ill-founded. The building remains in the company’s control with infrastructure and equipment stored there. Allowing work-from-home is hardly an income stream for them

Fuzzy Blue Line
Fuzzy Blue Line
2 months ago
Reply to  Granpa

ODOT has all but abandoned their Region 1 HQ building at the foot of the Steel Bridge in Old Town/Chinatown due to unsafe conditions in the area. They have leased office space in Tualatin which is ironic considering even a state agency that wants to be in downtown and was the site of so many protests in front of its building is forced to flee to the suburbs to escape the horrendous conditions in Chinatown. You just can’t make this stuff up.

Lenny Anderson
Lenny Anderson
2 months ago

Congrats Alta! Shortly after the Swan Island TMA got up and running, we contracted with Alta…then Mia, George and a couple of others…to do the “Swan Island Trails Action Plan.” Mia told me once that it “saved their bacon.” PBOT and BP/S partnered in funding that work. Some ideas contained in the Plan got built!

Fred
Fred
2 months ago

I continue to wonder why any company, in this age of remote work, with Zoom, shared docs, Slack, Discord, etc, would pay for office space downtown. Aren’t they going to be surpassed by competitors who do NOT pay for office space?

Unless … Alta’s real goal is to get contracts with Trimet and other agencies, in which case they want to be nearby??

I read recently that Mayor Wheeler wrote to leaders of businesses located downtown, begging them to order their remote workers back to the office. But why?? – so downtown vendors can sell them sandwiches? As articles on BP note all the time, we’re facing a climate catastrophe and we need to limit people’s need to drive downtown.

BB
BB
2 months ago
Reply to  Fred

People working in their basements, never interacting with the world since Covid is working so well for this city and society in general isn’t it?

PTB
PTB
2 months ago
Reply to  Fred

Not everyone loves WFH. My role at work won’t allow it, but there are some here that can, and during the height of Covid, did. I thought it sucked. I hated Zoom meetings. There’s something very human that is lacking when your only interactions are online. It would be one thing to Zoom with someone in a different time zone, but when that person is a couple miles from where you’re at, goddamn, something about it irks the hell out of me. And it clearly irked my coworkers because once vaccines rolled out they did what I thought we were all waiting to do once they were available; they came back to work. Didn’t we all hate being home and not seeing people? Vaccines were gonna help us get back to normal life, yeah? Then a bunch of office workers decided, nah, fuck it, this spare room office life is legit…I’m staying. You’re the master of your own isolation, same goes for me. I’m going out and leaving the house, thanks.

And yeah, downtown workers help the vendors that sell sandwiches and coffee and work lunch buffets and all that stuff. All that stuff that made downtown a fun place to be before Covid. All those jobs are important, too. I worked those jobs for a lot of years. I like the random encounter you have with someone in line waiting to get coffee, or running into a friend that also just got off work and deciding to grab a drink. I continue to wonder why people deprive themselves of these human experiences and decide they’d rather stay home all day.

Hats off to Alta for their move downtown. I love it. We can’t abandon downtown and just let it rot. We do that and there will be horrible consequences for the region and the state at some point. What they’ll be, I don’t know, but it’s probably best not to try and find out.

Let's Active
Let's Active
2 months ago
Reply to  PTB

I love working in the office, separating my home life from my work life and commuting in by bike. I work in Old Town and have seen some improvements in the past several months. That said, I get why many of my co-workers have stayed at home. Walks to Max/bus and waits at Max/bus stops are not comfortable (and in rare cases, not safe) for many. Glad Alta is moving downtown even if it’s not to Old Town

zuckerdog
zuckerdog
2 months ago
Reply to  Fred

I continue to wonder why any company, in this age of remote work, with Zoom, shared docs, Slack, Discord, etc, would pay for office space downtown. Aren’t they going to be surpassed by competitors who do NOT pay for office space?

While these tools are very helpful and have made viewing/attending meetings super efficient, sole use of them as a replacement with face-to-face interactions is unsustainable. Especially for design collaboration, on-boarding, and mentoring junior staff.

Also, I can’t image Bike Happy Hour being as much fun if it were held virtually.

There is no replacement for in-person interactions.

Fred
Fred
2 months ago
Reply to  zuckerdog

There are all kinds of in-person interactions. For work-related interactions that involve computer applications, there is no better tool than Zoom. It is far superior to face-to-face meetings. If you work with computer applications, you are far more productive remote than you are in a cubicle in a downtown office building.

PTB
PTB
2 months ago
Reply to  Fred

These are all opinions (except your first line). Which is fine, I have mine, too. But you’re saying these things like they’re gospel and they are not.

PS
PS
2 months ago

Inquiring minds may want to know how a lease like this compares within the broader context of the Portland downtown office market. This lease is likely about 16,000 square feet. In Q3 and Q4 the market will see 500,000 square feet of office space expiring in an environment where 20% of the aggregate office market is currently out for sub-lease, which means that 20% of all office space in downtown would like to move out if someone would just take over their lease.

So, is this good news, I guess, but it is in the face of a very very dire scenario for downtown and we would need 30 of these leases every 6 months just to keep the 25%+ vacancy rate flat.

By comparison, the suburban vacancy rate is about 5% for office.

Worse yet, it is obvious we don’t have the leadership who can effectively rectify this scenario and with the change coming to council it is even less likely that changes at all, add in the derision many have toward the PBA and the likelihood of change here is low.