Neighborhood takes charge of change, buys commercial property

Neighbors decide future of commercial space

PORTLAND, Ore. -- Control over their neighborhood's future. It's what many Portlanders hope for, but don't often get.

For the first time, one neighborhood is taking advantage of city funds to actually buy a commercial building and decide what goes in it.

A 5,695-square-foot building, built in 1946 on Northeast 42nd Avenue at Alberta Street, became vacant earlier this year. It's right in the heart of a growing restaurant row in the Cully-Wilshire neighborhood. Instead of complaining about what could move in there by a developer, the neighborhood has jumped on a little known city program to decide themselves.

"Our role in that is really making sure that members of this community can participate and for the folks who've been here for a long time, they get to stay," explained Michael DeMarco, executive director of Our 42nd Ave.

It's one of six Neighborhood Prosperity Initiative districts in Portland. Identified by former Portland Mayor Sam Adams in 2011, the neighborhoods are lower income, high diversity areas that need a financial shot in the arm. Cully, Parkrose, Rosewood, Division and 82nd Avenue are the other districts.

According to the Portland Development Commission that oversees the initiative, they share $870,000 set aside from the city's general fund to fix buildings, make traffic and public improvements, attract local businesses and provide district branding and marketing. And now for the first time, a district is using a loan from that money to buy commercial property.

"It's about being able to get some quick access to capitol, to help purchase a property, to help make a determination for what the right use is, then repay that loan so it can be used for other properties within the six districts," said Dana DeKlyen of the Portland Development Commission.

The former lab testing building Our 42nd Ave. just bought isn't much to look at inside, but old offices. Now Cully-Wilshire neighbors have a say in what it becomes next. Do they need a florist, a nonprofit, a doctor's office in the neighborhood? At least for right now, they knew they wanted iron worker Guillermo Navarro.

"Since I was a kid, I was bending things, I love to do it, so I want to create something and go from there," said Navarro, the owner of Iron Art of the Northwest.

His small welding business of 12 years had to leave it's former shop a few blocks away when that building sold. The prosperity district wanted him to stay in the neighborhood, so now Navarro is renting the garage of their new building. It could be permanent, making Our 42nd Ave. landlords, or the district could decide to sell the building, with an agreement of what it would become.

"There's going to be a lot of change in this community and other communities and there's no way we're going to buy and develop all of it, so we need those partners who want to see positive happen," DeMarco said.

The other five prosperity districts in Portland could use this commercial property acquisition as a strategy to help steer their neighborhoods.


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