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Former drug site deeded to Southeast Uplift by U.S. Marshal service

by: Eric Norberg, Still boarded up and bearing U.S. Marshall’s notices, this Division Street property opposite Atkinson Elementary School, Franklin High School, and Clinton Park faces a better future, as a community center in the Mt. Tabor neighborhood.

For over ten years, the property across from Atkinson Elementary School, facing Franklin High School, was home to a string of seedy businesses that attracted drug dealing, loitering, and vandalism. In 2003 federal and county agents arrested the owner of 'Drive Thru Wake Up' on charges of knowingly selling pseudoephedrine to local 'meth' labs. The sinus medicine is a key component used in manufacturing methamphetamine. The owner pleaded guilty in February of 2005. The federal government then took ownership of the property.

Representatives of the Atkinson Elementary School PTA and that South Tabor and Mt. Tabor Neighborhood Associations have worked closely for over two years with the U.S. Attorney's office, U.S. Marshals, and the Multnomah County Sheriff to gain community ownership of the site.

The result was that on Tuesday, June 6th, at 10 am, at S.E. 57th and Division, U.S. Attorney for Oregon Karen Immergut and Multnomah County Sheriff Bernie Guisto joined U.S. Marshal for the District of Oregon Dennis Merrill for the formal transfer of ownership of that property to the Inner Southeast's 'neighborhood coalition', Southeast Uplift, for the creation of a community-owned community center--to be known as the 'Atkinson/Tabor Community Commons'.

Southeast Uplift executive director Cece Hughley Noel accepted the keys to the property from U.S. Marshal Merrill.

The site is now planned to be a place for PTA meetings, volunteer events, additional meeting space, and activities for kids. Neighborhood residents say they are looking forward to having a place for community meetings and events, and to develop a range of innovative environmental features and improvements on the site.

Summer plans for the project include getting existing building ready to open and an environmental cleanup of low-level ground contamination from former gas station on the site. Community members have worked closely with representatives of the City of Portland Bureau of Environmental Services and Oregon State Department of Environmental Quality to prepare for the cleanup. Community representatives are also in discussion with representatives of the Fruit Stand about possibly locating a stand to sell local fresh fruit and produce on part of the site over the summer.

Community members successfully raised $49,000 since September 2005 to reimburse costs incurred by the U.S. Marshals in holding the site, as well as to acquire insurance, and for other costs related to holding the site over the coming year. Over 70 individuals and businesses contributed $25,000 to the project. The remainder was provided by a $24,000 contribution from Portland philanthropist Brad Mersereau.

Mt. Tabor Neighborhood Association Board member Paul Leistner said, 'Currently, many people worry that democracy and community engagement are eroding in our society. This project is an important example of community members stepping up to create a gathering space that will reinvigorate community dialogue and help build stronger ties between the school and neighborhood communities. This project will serve as a valuable model for other neighborhoods in Portland and for communities around the country.'