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Sour on Sugar Shack, Cully neighbors unite to shut it down

The neighborhood bought the strip club and then threw a party.

In July it became official — the Sugar Shack, a 25,991 square-foot strip-mall type building, is now under the control of Living Cully — a coalition of Habitat for Humanity Portland/Metro East, Hacienda Community Development Corporation, the Native American Youth & Family Center, and Verde.

After exceeding its crowdfunding goal on Indiegogo and raising nearly $60,000 in 90 days, Living Cully purchased the former strip club property. The 1950s cinderblock building and the 2.19-acre parcel that housed several adult businesses were purchased for $2.3 million.

“It’s like nothing I’ve seen before,” said Adam Zimmerman, executive vice president of Craft 3, the Northwest nonprofit that provided the loan. “We’re speaking in terms of a historic collaboration.”

For 20 years, the black-and-white-checkered strip mall, calling itself an Adult Superstore, at the intersection of U.S. Highway 30, Northeast Killingsworth Street and Cully Boulevard — a landmark triangle on the way to the Portland airport in Northeast Portland — weighed down this community with criminal activity. Just across Killingsworth, multiple affordable apartment buildings house hundreds of families with school-age children.

“It was (very bad),” said Wendy Yah Canul, a community member for 12 years. “There were a lot of bad activities, naked women, drunk folks, heroin use.”

Focusing on the future with daughter Kiara Valle and son Yurel Valle in tow, Canul stopped to reflect on the recent changes.

“We feel more comfortable working around here now. We hope for an active space that our kids can use,” she said.

For decades, residents have fought to keep the criminal activity from creeping across Killingswoth to infect their family lives. And now in this celebration, the residents reveled in the power of a community coming together and acting.

“This is a chance for the community to control the neighborhood’ ” said Cameron Herrington, Living Cully anti-displacement coordinator. “As investment comes into the neighborhood, as it grows and develops, we want the neighborhood to serve people already here.”

Taking turns touring the building, hundreds of community celebrants walked within the walls of the former adult businesses, amid red carpet strewn with glass and one remaining taxidermied duck tacked to the wall. It was an eerie sight for those neighbors over age 18 who chose to take up a flashlight and go inside. More than 40 small rooms, some with locks on the outside of the doors, and others with no windows, left many wondering what had gone on inside.

“We are re-interpreting development as a livability strategy,” said Tony DeFalco, Living Cully Ecodistrict Coordinator for Verde.

“The Sugar Shack has been a neighborhood concern for decades,” said Herrington. “With the purchase of the Sugar Shack, we have set a precedent how Cully neighborhood develops with neighbors in the driver’s seat.”

Community-centered development is the goal for what comes next, he said.

“As the community develops, we want businesses and services that meet the current neighbors’ needs. We are committed to working shoulder to shoulder.”

Cully is one of Portland’s most diverse neighborhoods — rich in culture and community. According to the action plan, Living Cully seeks to build around the cornerstones of community, like schools, while creating jobs and building community understanding through partnerships.

With Portland listed as one of the top 10 fastest-growing cities in the country by Forbes magazine, economic pressures are predicted to increase in the next few years.

“We need to be more creative and more bold,” Herrington said. “That’s what’s going to take us over the top.”