Mark Edlen – Beerchaser of the Quarter

Mark Edlen outside his favorite beer place

“I briefly met Mark Edlen when we were both on the U of O Daily Emerald board together. Flash forward forty-five years, his firm Gerding Edlen has had a profound impact on our city, with the Brewery Blocks standing out among many great projects.

Mark and his firm led the way in sustainable development, making LEED a standard for our city. Serving on the Portland Development Commission with Mark, I saw him utilize his smarts and knowledge to protect the taxpayers’ interest as well as could be done. His civic contribution is as good as it gets.”

Tom Kelly

The above narrative was the response I received from Tom Kelly, President of Neil Kelly Company when I asked him to summarize Mark Edlen’s contribution to Portland.   Tom is another Portland civic icon and corporate leader and their relationship goes back to college days.

Gerding Edlen halls during Civil War….

It was fall in 1985.  Besides having just gotten engaged, I’d just started a new job as the Business Manager at the Oregon State Bar.  That’s right – The Lawyers’ Trade Union – as some of my attorney friends kidded me.   The administrative, financial and support functions in the organization all needed some rethinking – my predecessor had been fired and decided to go to seminary……

The Bar was in some respects a publishing house – it produced several Continuing Legal Education books each year written by dedicated Bar volunteer lawyers to help educate their peers on such stimulating topics as Creditors’ Rights and Remedies, The Oregon Rules of Professional Conduct (Annotated), Contract Law including a stimulating chapter on “admissibility of extrinsic evidence to establish ambiguity in a contract term,” and of course, Torts.  

The current CLE library is more stimulating given recent changes in Oregon law and for $165, one can buy the Bar appropriate titled book on marijuana law – Joint Oregon and Washington Cannabis Codebook. (Emphasis supplied)

So the first time I met Mark was when as a Xerox salesman, he and his partner, Joe DeJager, convinced me (in what was a great long-term decision) to buy a $30,000 copier with all the bells and whistles that would improve efficiency while lowering the cost of Bar productions.

That began a long-term relationship since Mark and Joe both soon went to work for Cushman & Wakefield.  They represented the Bar in its successful efforts to sell its current building and move to a newly constructed headquarters on Kruse Way in SW Portland. 

Having been extremely pleased with the effectiveness and energy they exhibited at the Bar, we continued to have them represent us when I moved to the Schwabe Williamson & Wyatt firm as the Business Manager.  They were the firm’s leasing representatives when we renegotiated our lease for 100,000 + square feet in the PacWest Center.

Moving to the present – I was certainly aware of his success in the Gerding Edlen development firm and his charitable and civic efforts, but had not been face-to-face with Mark for a number of years when I asked him to join me for a beer at McMenamin’s Zeus Cafe (his favorite beer pub) so I could interview him as this blog’s newest Beerchaser-of-the-Quarter.  (We both drank a pint of Hammerhead Ale….)

The last time I sat across from him had been about ten years ago when I was raising money for the City Club of Portland’s Research Endowment Fund.  I met Mark in his office and began my pitch by reminding him that twenty years prior, I bought a $30,000 copier from him when he was a young Xerox salesman.  He immediately pulled out his checkbook and I left smiling.

Beerchaser-of-the-Quarter – Although this is a blog about bars and beer, each quarter I try to recognize an outstanding individual or group.  A number of these have nothing to do with my favorite beverage – they are just interesting individuals who have made worthwhile contributions to society and have a good story which should be told.

Craig (The Dude) Hanneman (right) on Mt. Everest climb

Past recipients include authors such as the late Brian Doyle (Mink River and The Plover), athletes such as former All-coast and then NFL tackle, Craig “The Dude” Hanneman and media personalities such as Dwight (The Godfather) Jaynes and Amy Faust of KWJJ, the Wolf. (To see their stories, click the links on their names.)

The most recent was Father Martin Grassel, the Procurator at the Mount Angel Abbey and also the Head Brewer for the Benedictine Brewery.

Father Martin Grassel

Now most people in the Northwest know of Mark through his success and the environmental values of Gerding Edlen Development Inc. or his civic efforts such as serving on the Portland Development Commission.  But Mark Edlen has a much broader story than these accomplishments.  He is also a wonderful family man, outdoorsman and athlete.  You will see why below.

The Honda 750 – his original high school motorcycle

To better understand this guy, we should go back to high school at Sunset High in Beaverton – he graduated in 1971.  His activities in high school gave a good indication of what was to come…..He worked at Safeway on the night crew and concurrently had a landscaping business during the day.

These jobs paid for the motorcycle he bought – a Honda 750, which he then sold to pay for his freshman tuition at U of O.

Gerding Edlen halls during Civil War….A life-long Duck..

“I then stumbled into the University of Oregon,” Mark states, and his remaining earnings from high school diminished to zero about six months after he made the scene in Eugene.  His delayed college education eventually continued at Portland State University for two terms before he returned to Eugene graduating in 1975 and earning his MBA in 1976.

His first job was with Xerox Corporation and he started his years at Cushman & Wakefield in 1980.  His legendary work ethic was evident according to Tom Usher, the Managing Partner at the office.  

I have known Mark for over 37 years, and I have never, and I mean never, ever met anyone in the real estate industry that has his energy and drive.  Emails at 3 A.M, meetings at 6:30 A.M.  (And on his Xerox sales skills) ‘I think he wrote the course for Xerox.  His favorite question was always, ‘So shall we meet tomorrow morning or in the afternoon?”

Mark Edlen was consistently one of the highest commercial real estate producers in Portland during his career at C/W and Tom Usher adds that part of his energy may have due to the daily ration of Diet Pepsi and maple bars he consumed.  (Mark asserted he gave up the maple bars about thirty years ago.)

The late Bob Gerding

He met long-time partner Bob Gerding in Portland in the late ’80’s when both were involved in a property transaction.  “Bob was very liberal and since I was a “Certified Lefty, we hit it off.”  He describes Gerding as brilliant with a PhD in biochemistry and “The best big thinker I have ever met.”  They cofounded the Gerding Edlen Development Inc. (hereafter GEDI) in 1996.

The Oregon State Bar building was the firm’s first build-to-suit project, followed by work for Key Bank.  Now from this point, I could describe in great detail the amazing accomplishments of GEDI – starting with their groundbreaking work in what was to become Portland’s Pearl District in what was both fortuitous and visionary.   (Stroh Brewing bought Blitz Weinhard and Olympia Brewing and GEDI had the opportunity in 2000 to buy the Blitz Brewery in what Mark described as “An action that was so far beyond our skis, it was ridiculous.”

The Armory was transformed into the Gerding Theater, home of Portland Center Stage

The Weiden and Kennedy  firm moved into their Pearl District building and the renovated Portland Armory became the first LEED Platinum building on the National Historic Register.

It became the home of Portland Center Stage and in 2006 was re-named The Gerding Theater at the Armory “….the first renovation of a performing arts venue in the world…it has drawn groups of people interested in sustainable design from across the country as well as international delegations from Russia, Belgium and Hungary.”  https://pcs.org/about-the-armory/  Historic preservation is another hallmark of the firm.

Then came the public-private partnerships and GEDI developed drug clinics, affordable housing and university facilities and schools.

The firm eventually evolved from Portland to other markets including Seattle, Boston, Chicago, San Francisco and Los Angeles – another example of willingness to take on risk as “We never really planned to develop outside Oregon.”   They established investment funds in 2009 and the GEDI investment portfolio now involves management of over $1 billion in real estate assets.

Still involved with firm after retirement.

Mark after his “retirement” in early 2017 and handing the reins of the firm to Molly Bordonaro and Kelly Saito as co-managing partners, still remains chair of the firm’s Investment Committee and Chairman of the Board.

As an example of the firm’s standing, Bloomberg summarizes its description as:

“GEDI is internationally recognized for its expertise and success in creating mixed-use commercial, residential, educational, and retail developments. (They have) overseen the development of 56 projects totaling approximately $4.8 billion since the inception of GEDI.

And as an example of their acclaimed environmental work, let’s look at the highlights of one of their recent buildings – The Indigo@12 West – a 22-floor mixed use office, apartment and retail located at 12th and SW Washington in Portland.  “(A) laboratory for cutting-edge, sustainable design strategies,” (Downtown Development Group LLC)

  • Four rooftop wind turbines generate renewable energy on-site.
  • Solar hot water and high-efficiency windows that let in natural light.
  • Rainwater is harvested and reused, and an eco-roof helps to mitigate stormwater runoff.
  • High quality, sustainable finishes include renewable bamboo hardwood floors and cabinets and wool carpets.

“Gerding Edlen originated the 20-minute living concept and established a set of criteria called Principles of Place—where community plays a pivotal role alongside design and technology in the success of their properties.

GEDI is committed to developing buildings that attain net-zero energy use and embrace the fundamental philosophy of community that integrates neighborhoods, educational institutions and builds strong business, government and community partnerships.”  (From the Bullitt Foundation website)

And if you think that Mark’s intelligence, work ethic and interpersonal skills make this success come easily – Think Again!  He talks about the sleepless nights and pervasive concern about cash-flow during the recession in 2008, when interest rates skyrocketed and vacancies in condos and commercial real estate were staggering.

Fortunately, he has had a life-partner to help in his endeavors – Ann, his wife of thirty-eight years, who he met when she came to Oregon on a trip from her native New Jersey.   Ann moved to Oregon and became the Vice President and Marketing Director at First Interstate Bank.

She eventually resigned from the bank to raise their three kids – at that time, there was no parental leave to mitigate the demands of parenting…..She started her own strategic marketing firm, Think Joule about eight years ago.

A dynamic woman who graduated in the first class of women at the University of Notre Dame, her contributions to civic endeavors are exceptional  – under her leadership as former chair of the Pacific Northwest College of the Arts Board, she and current chair, Aric Wood, raised $4 million for the school’s capital campaign.

The PNCA Building

She is still a member of the PNCA Creative Leaders Council.  The Ann Edlen Creative Corridor at the school was named in her honor.  Ann currently chairs the OHSU Foundation.

She is an athlete in her own right and in addition to being an avid skier, many of the cycling expeditions involve both of them as riders.

Rather than continue with what could be three blog posts on the accomplishments of Gerding Edlen Development Inc., let’s now focus on Mark’s personal life.

If you look on his Facebook page, you primarily see pictures of their grandchildren and family gatherings, posts about environmental issues and descriptions of their cycling adventures or skiing at their Sun Valley home.

Mark asserts that he learned as much from his outdoor endeavors as he did in Business School – those being camping, kayaking, rock climbing, skiing, hiking and most notably cycling.

His cycling days go back to his youth and although much more strenuous, probably safer than his U of O ski racing days and his several years racing motorcycles. (“You know you’re alive when you hit 150 mph on a Ducati”)   It doesn’t surprise those who know him to hear him state, “I love the hills and get my best ideas riding up Terwilliger Blvd.!“  

He estimated that last year he rode about 7,000 miles which is a typical annual regimen in trips ranging from riding in the Columbia River Gorge, “gravel grinders” in Idaho to a trek down the Oregon coast to Central Oregon loops to the couple’s multiple international trips through programs by inGamba. (France, Portugal, Italy, etc.)

To get a better indication of the combined challenge and joy in these journeys, I have excerpted some of the journal entries Mark posted on Facebook during their ride from Portland to San Francisco about four years ago. They are shown at the end of this post and are worth reading.

Each day his journal entry ends with the phrase, “Best Day of the Year,” – because Mark is not only a certified Lefty, but also a certified optimist.

And although it may be challenging to comprehend given his business and outdoor pursuits, Mark Edlen has made his mark in the community through civic, charitable and public service activities.  The latest has been his four-year term on the Portland Development CommissionBoard service on Eco Trust, Portland Center Stage and the Bullet Foundation are a few of his other pursuits which are too many to list.

“Mark and his wife, Ann are actively involved in the Portland community and are deeply committed to education, healthcare, the arts, sustainability and the built environment. They believe that as engaged citizens we must always be asking, how can we add to our community, what is our  what is our responsibility to the livability of the built environment and how can we help less fortunate Oregonians attain their dreams.”  (From Bullitt Foundation website)

The Northwest is fortunate to have Ann and Mark Edlen living and working here.  They are both role models and whether one looks at their contributions to public service or reflects on the urban landscape that has been shaped by Gerding Edlen Development Inc. their impact is lasting and remarkable.

Mark is a still a young man and I have an inclination that the future plans of this newest Beerchaser-of-the-Quarter might be accurately reflected in the picture below with these quotes from American author and essayist Edward Abbey, who was noted for his advocacy of environmental issues:

“It’s all still there in heart and soul. The walk, the hills, the sky, the solitary pain and pleasure – they will grow larger, sweeter, lovelier in the days and years to come………May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view. May your mountains rise into and above the clouds.”

Excerpts from the 2014 Ride from Portland to San Francisco 

Summary:  Nine days, 860 miles, 69,000 feet of climbing, an unbelievable number of calories consumed and burned, enough water drank to float a boat and what at times seemed like endless saddle time all mixed in with some of the best scenery of mountains and the Pacific Ocean anywhere, great support personnel and most of all fun, world class riding companions from across the US, Australia, Canada and Germany.

But the climb turned out to be the easy part. The descents all through the day were absolutely nothing short of brutal. We were on old county roads that are only used by farmers and loggers for the most part. The roads were full of pot holes, ruts and many times turned to nothing more than dirt and gravel.

And to add to the fun, often they were in the shade which meant you couldn’t see the ruts etc so we were often caught by surprise and thus jarring our entire body as the bike dove into yet another hole in the road. I really think that my collar bones and shoulder blades are now fused to my skull and I am hoping that feeling comes back into my hands before the morning.

But that was only the first climb. The second was even more exciting. While it was only 1,000 feet, the grades were in excess of 20% and probably averaged well over 13%. I was out of the saddle giving it everything I had more than I was in the saddle. I would look for the grade to drop down to maybe 10-11% so that I could sit and get my heart rate down to a tolerable level……..

Just when we thought this might go on for a long stretch the route turned inland and back uphill once again and the furnace came on with the inland heat. Wow, you couldn’t drink or eat enough the rest of the day. It probably approached the mid 90’s and we baked. Everyone was caked in body salt and we were draining our water bottles quickly no matter that the fluids we were drinking were just short of being hot due to the temperatures, it was still wet and helped replace the fluids we were quickly shedding.

We crossed a lot of classic Northern CA rolling brown hills with oaks and struggled up and down the rollers heading for the “queen” hill climb of the day which was 3,000 feet up spread out over about a 7 mile stretch following a 10 mile roller approach. Fortunately the grades were more moderate at 7-11% but it was still a struggle for everyone…….

And once again, the descent was nothing short of brutal with pot holes, gravel, ruts and other fun obstacles……But the brutal descent led us back into the Redwoods Park and paradise where traversed the Avenue of the Giants and a truly world class experience. If you had any doubt about saving such miraculous splendor you need to visit this park. It is almost spiritual.

At one point we stopped, were silent and all you could hear was the whisper of the wind through these magnificent giants.

Unbelievable!   Today’s stats were 97 miles and 11,250 feet of climbing, by far the toughest, most challenging and perhaps brutal day that I have spent on a bike yet absolutely breathtakingly beautiful and satisfying at the same time.

The last two days were pretty challenging for me as I developed a respiratory issue that prevented me from being able to take in sufficient air so I simply eased off the gas and enjoyed a more moderate pace. During those two days we encountered some pretty significant coastal head…..several inland turns where we tackled various climbs of 1,000 to 2,000 feet at a time just for good measure…..

Most assuredly everyone was glad to be finished knowing that they didn’t have to mount up again the next day and I’m sure everyone was pleased with their accomplishment as it is amazing what you can accomplish when you put your mind and energy to it…..I may not elect that mode of transportation tomorrow or even the next day!  But after a few days of rest and catching up at home and the office it will be time to start dreaming up the next adventure, but this time with Ann who is always the best companion…….