Walter Bowen, Portland’s behind-the-scenes skyline changer

When he was a kid, Walter Bowen used to ride the bus and walk all around downtown Portland. He remembers now, decades later, looking up at some of the office buildings that populated downtown then and wondering just who owned them.

Today, Bowen is 73, the CEO of BPM Real Estate Group and one of those building owners himself.


“It’s kind of a dream come true,” he said, “to be able to do something like this and make a contribution to the community, it really is.”

A veteran of the multifamily, affordable housing and assisted and independent living sectors, Bowen heads up the firm that brought the Pearl District’s newest office building to fruition. Known as Pearl West, the nine-story building was the first to break ground in the neighborhood after the Great Recession. It officially opened this week.

Unlike other prominent local developers, Bowen is rarely in the limelight. He talked to the Business Journal this week about why the time was right for Pearl West, why it’s also right for his next project, a 20-story office/hotel combo called Broadway Tower and why he’s no Donald Trump.

You seem to be more behind-the-scenes than other developers in town. Well, yeah, I try to stay out of the press as much as possible. No particular reason, that’s just who I am. We do what we do, a lot of which has been in the senior living business. But once you do a major development in a major urban market, people want to know who you are.

You’ve developed apartments and senior housing before, but never office. What made you want to do Pearl West? I live right near there and have an office on 14th and Lovejoy. A few years ago, our lease was going to expire, and we started thinking we should look for some office space, but everywhere we looked, all we saw were apartments going up.

There wasn’t any other office space going up at the time. Were there any naysayers to your idea? I don’t think any knowledgeable person would have said you should not build an office project there. Every single survey we looked at said that Portland was the tightest office market in the whole country, so we looked at the numbers, formed a team and did it. It’s been very successful.

Do you worry at all that adding 180 hotel rooms at Broadway Tower may fuel a glut here in Portland? No, every survey we’ve seen and that the banks have seen shows that, even with everything in process right now with hotels, we are still under capacity. Portland is just becoming more and more of a spot where people want to be.

Broadway Tower is expected to break ground in June. What’s next in Portland for you? We’ll see if we decide to do some more development or just wait and pull our horns in for awhile. Another division of ours is doing a $300 million residential development in Bend, but in Portland, our plate is pretty full right now. My name isn’t Donald Trump. I do one project at a time.