In 1985, the Portland Business Journal reported that the Montgomery Ward catalog warehouse in Northwest Portland had been sold. The purported buyer was Target Oil who planned to convert the 800,000 square foot nine-story warehouse into a hydroponic garden to grow tomatoes for air shipment to Japan.
Bill Naito (Bob’s father) and Bob flew to Chicago to meet with Montgomery Ward’s real estate manager and returned the following day with a signed purchase agreement containing a single contingency—that the City of Portland would approve the issuance of private-activity industrial development revenue bonds to finance the redevelopment of the building.
At that time, the city lacked convention and trade show facilities. The Naito’s plan was to redevelop the lower three floors of the building into trade show and meeting facilities. The rest of the building would be developed into a merchandise mart with floors devoted to gifts, apparel and a design center. With the change of two letters on its 300-foot long rooftop neon sign, the building was renamed “Montgomery Park”.
The proposed new use required the most rigorous land use reviews: a comprehensive plan amendment and zone change from heavy industrial to commercial and a super block site review. In addition, the use of federal historic tax credits required the approval of the National Park Service.
The historic renovation of the building was an early example of green building. Armed with a $500,000 “Energy Edge” grant from the Bonneville Power Administration, the Naito’s incorporated a number of energy conservation features into the design. The most visible feature is the “USS Montgomery” an enormous water tank shaped like a submarine and used to store water that is pre-cooled overnight and used to cool the building during the day.
The thermal mass of the building and its internal heat loads were sufficient to heat the building in the winter. Two gas-fired boilers designed to heat the building never operated until a few years ago when a retro-fit of the lighting systems reduced the waste heat to a level that they were occasionally needed to preheat the building on very cold mornings.
Over the years, the uses in the building gradually evolved. A new convention center was built making the trade show facilities in Montgomery Park obsolete. Meanwhile, large office users replaced the merchandise mart tenants. Today, major tenants in the building include Freightliner, Wells Fargo Bank, Kaiser Permanente, UPS and WebMD.