Never used Multnomah Co. jail popular as cheap film location

Portland, Ore - It hasn't housed a single inmate in the decade since it was built.

But, the $60 million Wapato Jail in north Portland is getting a lot of use these days – from film crews.

VIDEO: Watch KGW report

Multnomah County spokesman David Austin said roughly 50 productions have been shot inside the jail, including 'Portlandia,' 'Grimm' and 'Leverage.'

This week, a production crew from California is at the jail shooting a web series on solitary confinement.

But, Multnomah County isn't making money off of the film, TV and commercial shoots.

Instead, the production crews only pay what it costs to operate the facility during their stay.

Restrictions tied to the bonds used to construct the jail restrict the county from making money off of it, Austin said.

"We can't charge an arm and a leg to somebody to use it because we're part of the public and the taxpayers own the building," Austin said.

"We're not a private industry so what we charge is simply for the use of the building, the utilities, electricity, water and our security and people that we have to have out there to keep the building safe."

The county spends roughly $300,000 a year just to maintain and secure the facility, which was built with a voter-approved public safety bond measure in the mid-90s.

Operating money for the facility was also approved through a tax levy.

But, later that year, voter-approved property tax reforms axed operating funds for the new jail.

The county's been trying to figure out what to do with it ever since.

On Thursday, Austin said that county leaders were hopeful that the film industry's interest in the jail would ultimately lead to a sale.

"We want to get rid of this building. We want to stop having it, you know, be a drain on taxpayers," Austin said.


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