By Lee Perlman
For the Hollywood Star News, June, 2010
Susan Lindsay, chair of the Buckman Community Association and the principal advocate for redevelopment of the long-vacant Washington High School campus, last month made the second major reversal on plans for the property in the last year.
In 2004 a public committee chaired by Lindsay called for the city to purchase part of the 7.5-acre property at Southeast Stark Street and 12th Avenue and build a new community center there, while using most of the rest of the property, including the old high school building, for housing development. Last year she departed from this plan, suggesting instead that developer Art DeMuro purchase the building and develop the top for housing while leasing the bottom to the Portland Bureau of Parks for some community center facilities; Parks would later construct a second structure containing other features such as a pool and a gym. Then, last month, she reversed course again, calling for DeMuro to use the whole building for housing and some commercial activity while relegating all Community Center functions to a new structure, to be built in the indefinite future as originally planned.
At a meeting last month of the Central East Side Urban Renewal Advisory Committee, Lindsay explained the switch. Two months ago Commissioner Nick Fish and the Portland Parks Bureau announced that they were abandoning plans to submit to the voters a $200 million bond measure, which would have provided critical funding for Washington High community center. The letter announcing the abandonment of the measure promised that “it’s a matter of when, not if” such funds are sought for Parks facilities. However, Lindsay said, efforts to save the old building cannot wait on something that might happen in the indefinite future.
In addition, DeMuro himself told the URAC that he is trying desperately to make the project financially feasible. Toward that end, he wants to use “every leasable square inch” of the lower portions of the building for commercial use. He is also seeking to use slightly less than $1 million of the district’s urban renewal funds, previously allocated to the creation of the community center, for the housing project. He is also seeking $1.6 million more of the district’s funds, part of funds “set aside” for low income housing maintenance and development. DeMuro said he proposes to create housing units affordable for people earning up to 55 percent of median area household income, which would include people earning up to $26,900 a year.
The URAC set up a special ad hoc subcommittee to study this last request.
In a later conversation, DeMuro pointed out that a key issue is whether the Portland School District is willing to sell the building, and if so at what cost.