A development at North Williams Avenue and Russell Street is expected to honor Portland’s African American community and promote health and wellness for children and families.
Legacy Health, the city and Prosper Portland, the city’s economic and urban development agency, are collaborating to develop a 1.7-acre vacant block owned by Legacy Health, according to Michael B. Cox, a spokesman for Mayor Ted Wheeler.
A project working group is being established to make sure the development is community-centered and has significant community engagement, Cox said in a news release. The working group will include representatives from Prosper Portland, Legacy Health, the Portland Housing Bureau and a wide array of community partners, he said.
The intersection of Williams Avenue and Russell Street was the commercial center of an African American community that developed after World War II. The shops and nearby homes were leveled in an urban renewal project in the 1970s when Legacy Emanuel Medical Center planned an expansion, but expected federal funding didn’t materialize.
Much of the land remained vacant after more than 170 families – 74 percent were African American – were displaced from their homes, according to Kimberly Branam, the executive director of Prosper Portland, who spoke at a news conference announcing the development project.
The Portland Development Commission was involved in working on the hospital expansion as the city’s urban renewal agency and changed its name to Prosper Portland earlier this year. It also is focused on a new mission of building an equitable economy based on four cornerstones: growing family-wage jobs, advancing opportunities for prosperity, collaborating with partners for an equitable city, and creating vibrant neighborhoods and communities.
Community members’ resentment at the displacement of homes and businesses has remained for decades, which Branam acknowledged.
“While this terrible chapter in our city’s history does not represent who we are or how we work today,” she said, “what happened then must – and will – continue to inform how we move forward alongside community members and engage with our partners in North and Northeast Portland.”
In the fall, the project working group is expected to begin meetings and guide “community visioning” forums.
The development will complement the adjacent Legacy Emanuel campus and include medical offices, a surgery center and a patient and family housing center, according to Cox. Additional uses may include housing, community gathering spaces, a cultural business hub, open space or other amenities, he said.
“The process and resulting collaborative project will activate a historic corner within North Portland and will benefit and honor Portland’s African American community,” the news release said.
The new project isn’t meant to make up for the past, Mayor Ted Wheeler said at the project’s announcement. “It is to make clear that whatever ultimately is built on those properties will be done in collaboration with the community and will include projects that serve and support the community,” he said.