Former library may get new life
Coalition sees bright future for county’s Wikman Building
During the darkest days of World War I, residents of the Arleta neighborhood rallied to raise $1,800 to buy land for a new library branch near Foster Road and Southeast 64th Avenue. Now the former Arleta Library building, vacant since July, could see new life as a community center — a modern-day Grange Hall — for the gritty but up-and-coming Foster Road corridor. Multnomah County commissioners voted last week to declare the brick 1918 building as surplus property. The county also plans to negotiate the building’s sale with a coalition of community organizations led by ROSE Community Development Corp. ROSE — Revitalize Outer South East — and its partners have six months to raise the money to buy the former library, now called the Wikman Building. “I really feel that this part of Foster is ready to pop,” said Nick Sauvie, ROSE executive director, who is working in tandem with the Southeast Uplift Neighborhood Coalition, Foster-Powell Neighborhood Association and Foster Area Business Association. The Wikman Building was appraised at $750,000 in February 2006, but the property value has likely fallen since then. One of the first places ROSE will turn for money is the Portland Development Commission, because the property lies within PDC’s Lents Town Center Urban Renewal District. Sauvie said the prospects are favorable for landing some PDC funding. Ideas for using the 5,187-square-foot building have been discussed, including creating a multicultural community center, a grocery cooperative, an Internet cafe, a farmers market, a community kitchen and a small-business incubator. Respecting history The Carnegie Institute, funded by steel magnate-turned-philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, provided funds to build the library branch, which operated until the larger Holgate Library opened in 1971. From 1973, the building served as headquarters of the Multnomah County Community Action Agency, which provided services for low-income people. The building was renamed in 1982, after the death of Lea Wikman, chairwoman of the community action agency. The community action agency moved in 1988, when the Multnomah County Department of Community Justice moved into the building. That operation was largely moved to the Juvenile Justice Complex last June, and the county has since decided it no longer needs the building. Commissioner Judy Shiprack organized community meetings to drum up interest in the site. Letters were sent out to 400 real estate agents, but there has been minimal interest in acquiring the property. County commissioners agreed to seek a sale to the coalition of community groups at fair-market value, to be determined via another appraisal. MaryLouise Ott, who grew up using the Arleta Library and recently resettled in the South Tabor neighborhood, told commissioners that she hopes the coalition respects the historic nature of the building. She fears it might be prone to cut corners because historic preservation can be expensive. But that was the only remotely dissenting comment received by the county commissioners. Foster Road appears to be on the upswing after suffering years of decline. There are new restaurants, coffee shops and other retail businesses on Foster, and Nick Storie just purchased the former Bob White Theatre, near the Wikman Building, and hopes to reopen it as a movie house serving food and drink. Multnomah County Chair Jeff Cogen said surplus properties often can be an “albatross” for the county, but that doesn’t appear to be the case for the Wikman Building. “Something truly stupendous could happen here,” he said.