Healthy block will honor black history
Legacy Emanuel Medical Center has been a controversial site for nearly 50 years, when it displaced a neighborhood without much of their input.
Now an empty full-block site between North Vancouver Avenue and Williams Avenue in the Eliot neighborhood will be a blank slate for a development the community — and neighbors — can both engage in.
Prosper Portland, Legacy Health and the City of Portland have partnered up on a 1.7-acre development at North Russell Street and Williams Avenue.
The full-block lot is already owned by Legacy Health, and is directly across North Vancouver Avenue from the Legacy campus.
The new development is meant to complement the current Legacy campus by potentially including medical offices, a surgery center and a patient and family housing center.
"I know that in the 1970s, the agency I now lead played a direct role in the displacement of more than 171 families, 74 percent of whom were African-American, from the urban renewal area that included this site," said Kimberly Branam, executive director of Prosper Portland. "While this terrible chapter in our city's history does not represent who we are or how we work today, 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."
The focus of the partnership on the development is to honor Portland's African-American community, contribute to the neighborhood's vibrancy and further Legacy Health's mission of promoting health and wellness for children and families.
"We know that one project cannot and will not make up for the past. But we are also hopeful that a project grounded in a shared commitment to Portland's African-American community—and to the health of individuals and families—can promote community healing in the process," said Branam. "This milestone today represents collaborative efforts of many people."
While plan details haven't been nailed down yet, ideas for uses include inter-generational affordable and workforce housing for seniors and families, community gathering spaces, a cultural business hub, open space or other amenities desired by the community.
What have been agreed upon are the guiding principles: that the project should benefit, support and honor Portland's African American community and further Legacy Health's mission of promoting health and wellness; implement a transparent and community-centered process with significant community engagement; and the partners will establish a Project Working Group to oversee the community engagement and development process.
But there's currently a snag in the funding: the site is outside the Interstate CorridorUrban Renewal Area, so Prosper Portland's board of commissioners is reviewing an amendment to the URA that would include it. The amendment would enable Prosper Portland and the Portland Housing Bureau to use URA financial resources to support the site's potential projects.
Wednesday, August 9, the Prosper Portland Board of Commissioners approved an amendment to include 213-15 N.E. Hancock St. and 4236 N.E. 8th Ave. in the URA, but postponed the decision on the 1.7-acre property at N. Russell and Williams for additional discussion and review by the Oversight Committee, which met on August 23.
The feedback from that will be shared with the Board of Commissioners at the next meeting, September 13, when action is expected to be taken.
Through the fall and winter, the Project Working Group will meet to collect and review suggestions, developing a set of priorities for the site.
"Our hope is that this represents one of many such projects — and that what we achieve here can become a model for future community-centered developments in this neighborhood and beyond," Branam said. "With health, healing, economic opportunity and community at its center, we hope the community can prosper anew in this place ... and I look forward to seeing this vacant land, once again, serve the North and Northeast Portland community."
Construction is slated to begin in 2019.
By Jules Rogers
Reporter, The Business Tribune
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