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City, Rockwood group work to save Black Cat site

OUTLOOK PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - The former Black Cat Cantina on East Burnside Road could be saved and redeveloped if a $400,000 loan from the Gresham Redevelopment Commission ultimately goes through. In the words of Brad Ketch, the president and CEO of the Rockwood Community Development Corporation, there is opportunity and threat facing Rockwood.

But after the Wednesday, Sept. 9, meeting of the Gresham Redevelopment Commission Advisory Board Committee, hopefully Ketch feels the needle has moved more toward opportunity.

The advisory board voted unanimously to recommend that the Gresham Redevelopment Commission award a $400,000 loan to the Rockwood CDC so it can purchase the now-shuttered Black Cat Cantina.

The Rockwood CDC is hard to describe in just one sentence. Its leaders and Board of Directors have their hands in almost everything in Gresham from helping to organize Rock the Block to starting after school homework clubs for non-English speakers.

Really, though, their goal is to inspire community engagement to better the community through goals that the residents set themselves.

The organization began about three years ago with a program called Rockwood Speaks, through which they learned that what the community wants and needs most is a space of their own.

Then one day an opportunity for such a space appeared. Black Cat Cantina, a restaurant at 18901 E. Burnside Road, closed its doors and the Rockwood CDC saw a proverbial window of opportunity open.

But with a price tag of about $1.5 million, buying the building seemed out of reach. Amazingly, however, Rockwood CDC put in an offer to lease the building with a purchase option agreement and the Black Cat owner agreed.

Here’s where the “threat” part comes in. The other interested party looking to buy the building is noted strip club owner Johnny Diablo.

“It’s the worst of the worst,” Ketch said about Diablo’s clubs.

Fortunately for Rockwood CDC, the Black Cat is located in the heart of Rockwood where the city has invested millions in its catalyst site to bring business and prosperity to the west side of Gresham.

Rockwood CDC has a promise from a bank for a loan of about $1 million and if the GRDC approves the $400,000 loan, buying the Black Cat is within reach.

Ketch has until the stroke of midnight on Dec. 31 to make the sale happen, or all their work - and really all of the city’s work on its catalyst site — will be for naught.

Josh Fuhrer, executive director of the Gresham Redevelopment Commission said if a strip club were to move in, it would destroy the city’s entire plan for the catalyst site in Rockwood.

“Part of this is defensive,” Fuhrer said. “We’ve got a roughly $30-35 million project on the catalyst site that, if we have a strip club go in, it will kill tenant demand to the point where we probably won’t have a project.”

Attempts by The Outlook to reach Diablo were unsuccessful.

When Rockwood CDC moved in to lease the Black Cat, it also brought along three other tenants — Forge Food, Latino Network and As Is Church — that would be kicked out if the purchase is not made.

“It seems like a no-brainer to me that the city should offer the loan right away,” said Chris Bentley, vice chair of the GRDC advisory committee. “It doesn’t seem like there is really any question about that.”

— jweinberger@the