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By Arashi Young | The Skanner News
Published: 27 August 2015

Last week Portland Mayor Charlie Hales held a press conference in an empty lot between Cook and Ivy Streets on Northeast Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.

Once the site of a chemical storage building, now the weedy lot represents the future of development in NE Portland.

The Mayor, along with city commissioner Dan Saltzman, announced plans to develop two properties along MLK Boulevard they say will enhance the neighborhood without displacing residents.

 As Hales addressed the crowd, he spoke about preserving community in the development boom.

“Will we become the place where people can no longer afford to live? Will we become the San Francisco of the Northwest? How do we keep Portland a place of opportunity for everyone even while we deal with the challenges of growth and change?” Hales asked.

A mixed-use building is planned for the grounds of the former chemical storage facility named the Grant Warehouse. There will be businesses lining the ground floor and up to 70 units of affordable housing on the floors above.

 Saltzman told the Skanner News the housing prices are still being worked out, but said it will be “substantially affordable,” with many units going to those who make 30 to 60 percent below the median income.

The city of Portland has partnered with the Portland Development Commission, Portland Community Reinvestment Initiatives, developers Gerding Edlen, Carleton Hart Architects for the Grant Warehouse development. The building will use $4.5 million in urban renewal money from the Interstate Urban Renewal Area.

Down the street, on the corner of NE Alberta and MLK, will be a shopping plaza anchored by a Natural Grocers grocery store. The plaza will have room for up to 10 other stores. These tenants will be chosen by a Tenant Advisory Committee who will prioritize local and minority-owned businesses.

Both developments will be built by the Black-owned general contracting firm, Colas Construction.

City officials say the Grant Warehouse housing prioritizes families who have been displaced or are at risk of displacement because of rising housing prices. Saltzman said there is a focus group to create policy to give these residents the first right of refusal for housing.

“The intent is to give people who either formerly lived in the neighborhood or people who live in the neighborhood now priority access to development that public money is involved in,” Saltzman said.

 The new rules may involve providing proof of current or past residency in the neighborhood. Saltzman said the new policy should be completed in the next month.

The developments may mark a new beginning after the fallout from the controversial Trader Joe’s deal. Trader Joe’s was the original anchor tenant for the Alberta Street grocery store shopping plaza. The arrangement sparked heavy criticism after Portland Development Commission announced it had sold the land to developer Majestic Realty for $2.4 million less than its appraised value.

Community leaders from the Portland African American Leadership Forum said money set aside to develop the Interstate Corridor Urban Renewal Area should directly benefit the community that lives there. PAALF suggested investing in local minority-owned businesses, creating community benefit agreements to employ minority employees and mitigating gentrification through housing.

Many of these criticisms were discussed in the North/Northeast Neighborhood Housing Strategy Community Oversight Committee. According to Saltzman, many people professed their desire to either stay in the neighborhood or be able to move back into the neighborhood. He said the Grant Warehouse was created in response to these community concerns.

Making policy to prioritize those at risk of displacement from gentrification is a new effort by city officials. Saltzman said there is no guarantee of success, but said it is a sincere effort to balance growth with community.

“Many of the issues focused around North and Northeast Portland are flashpoints in many cities across the country, in how do you deal with gentrification,” he said. “I think we are really trying to come up with some tangible policies that might do that.”

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