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Recasting Trader Joes

Mayor meets with community to revive controversial project

Donovan M. Smith | 3/11/2014, 4:06 p.m.
The public outcry that led to specialty grocer Trader Joe’s pullout of a city-negotiated economic development project in the heart ...
Portland Mayor Charlie Hales, Commissioner Dan Saltzman and other government officials met with leaders of the African American and northeast Portland community Monday to try to revive a proposal to develop a vacant parcel of land at Northeast Alberta and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard for a Trader Joe’s specialty grocery store. Photo by Donovan M. Smith

The public outcry that led to specialty grocer Trader Joe’s pullout of a city-negotiated economic development project in the heart of Portland’s historic African American community may get reversed if the mayor and other city leaders are successful in new efforts to recast the project.

Mayor Charlie Hales and Commissioner Dan Saltzman met with leaders of the African-American community, neighborhood, and business representatives at City Hall in an effort to bring the popular retail chain back, perhaps with more compromises for all parties at the table.

The issues discussed at Monday’s gathering included past policies that led to the displacement of people of color and other disadvantaged residents from inner north and northeast Portland, along with pledges to increase affordable housing and minority-owned businesses in the Interstate Corridor Urban Renewal Area, a large section of north and northeast Portland which includes the proposed Trader Joe’s site at Northeast Alberta and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.

The community leaders who attended the meeting went mostly unnamed, but included representatives of the Portland African American Leadership Forum or PAALF, the group which brought major opposition to the tax supported project when it was announced in November.

The new proposal by city officials would boost spending on affordable housing in the corridor by some $20 million over 5 years, using future property taxes dedicated for urban renewal as a way to reverse some of the gentrification that’s occurred over the past few decades.

The plan would also call for the Portland Development Commission to work with small businesses and stakeholders, especially firms owned by persons of color, to create and support a robust business and commercial district.

PAALF Executive Director Cyreena Boston Ashby did not have a comment on the new efforts when reached Tuesday.

Colas Construction, the locally owned African-American company that had been selected as the general contract for the $8 million dollar Trader Joe’s project just days before the pullout was announced early last month, was pleased with the new efforts.

Andrew Colas told The Portland Observer Tuesday that his company had never ceased discussions with Majestic Realty, the Los Angeles-based developer which was the major backer of the project.

He said developing the site was “a critical project to spawn economic development” in the neighborhood, and particularly for the small business owners in Vanport Square, the adjacent retail center which was promised an anchor tenant nearly 10 years ago

Colas says he flew out to Los Angeles as recently as last Wednesday to show Majestic a petition supporting a Trader Joe’s that was sponsored by the Oregon chapter of the National Association of Minority Contractors, which Colas Construction is a member.

He says of the 684 names listed as supporters, the Urban League of Portland was one of the signees.

Colas gave the Mayor credit for his leadership and said he was “cautiously optimistic” the deal will be revived.

--Donovan M. Smith