The paint is peeling, the distinctive Art Deco colonnades cracked, the neon "FURNITURE" sign gone dark. On one exterior wall, someone has affixed an image seen many bumper stickers in Oregon: a green heart filling an outline of the state.
But this little corner of Oregon looks like it hasn't had much love in a long while.
That could change soon at the southwest corner of 82nd Avenue and Division Street in Portland.
In December, Metro's Transit-Oriented Development Program – which invests in properties and developments near transit – purchased the half-acre site, including the 8,000 square-foot building that sits on it. While work proceeds to select a developer, Metro has finalized a first-of-its-kind arrangement with a local nonprofit to operate an interim community center in the building, program managers announced this week.
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The oldest, most distinctive section of the building was built in the 1930s as a Piggly Wiggly grocery. Several additions came later, and a widening of Division Street in the 1960s ate away at the corner of the property. Its last tenant was a discount furniture store, which closed more than a year ago.
Thousands of cars and bus riders pass by each day on two of the busiest thoroughfares in the region. People walk and cycle by on the way to businesses in the emerging Jade District and classrooms at Portland Community College's Southeast Campus, which sits just across Division Street. In five years, Powell-Division bus rapid transit could serve the corner as it connects riders to downtown Portland and Gresham.
Over a year will pass before any plans are finalized or ground is broken on what Metro managers envision will be a combination of retail and residential uses. Metro must first convene a project committee to select a developer for the location, using criteria that include priorities like maintaining housing affordability.
Rather than having the site sit vacant and fenced-off during that time, Metro has leased the space to the Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon, or APANO, to operate the Jade District Community Space. The new community center can be used for meetings, classes, performances and events that support the neighborhood's efforts to build community and economic vitality.
Metro purchased the property for $685,000 using funds targeted for transit-oriented development from federal sources. It spent roughly $30,000 on repairs to make the building usable, including adding a new accessible bathroom, and also extended a $2,000 sponsorship to APANO to help with cleanup before the community center opens, development project manager Jon Williams said. APANO will lease the site without cost for 12 months in exchange for maintenance and upkeep. APANO will also be responsible for utility costs during that time.
APANO and Jade District leaders said the interim community space allows an opportunity to demonstrate what they believe is an acute need in the neighborhood. A community center was one of the top priorities to emerge from a 2014 public visioning effort in the district, which was created through the Portland Development Commission's Neighborhood Prosperity Initiative.
"Having an interim community center will help prove why we need one in the future, and that furniture store is a great way to test it out," said Shannon Payne, communications chair for the Jade District steering committee. "We'll be able to see how many people want to come and gravitate around that space."
"Everything we do there is very short-term and temporary, but long-term it gives us time to formulate a vision with Metro on how we can best serve community needs" at the site, added Duncan Hwang, APANO communications director.
Metro Councilor Bob Stacey, whose district includes the Jade District, called the opportunity a "triple grand slam."
"I can't imagine a better confluence of regional policy, local aspiration, and community vision than this use of that property as an interim, and its potential for future development that can serve the neighborhood and serve new residents," Stacey said.
APANO officially launched the community space at its annual "Voices of Change" event May 7, with dinner catered by a local Thai restaurant, passionate speeches and performances of Taiko drumming, Cambodian dance and Nepalese music.
In focus: 82nd and Division
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