The abrupt end of Prosper Portland’s development agreement on the 14-acre downtown U.S. Post Office site dealt the city an economic blow, but it could offer a solution to a vexing challenge for City Hall—where to site six “safe rest villages” the Portland City Council promised by year’s end.
On Wednesday, Prosper Portland announced that Continuum Partners, a Denver development company, had withdrawn from the deal it had signed to build on the post office site. The former post office, now owned by Prosper Portland, is the biggest parcel of land in the proposed 34-acre Broadway Corridor development, which the city hopes to build out over 20 years.
Continuum’s decision was bad news, but Mark New, a longtime downtown real estate broker and developer, suggested in an email to Housing Commissioner Dan Ryan today that there could be a bright side.
“We have been discussing safe sleeping zones as a solution for months, saw a long list of possible sites published, yet specific sites are not coming forward in preparation for winter,” New wrote to Ryan and Mayor Ted Wheeler.
“The post office site should be embraced and a plan prepared to turn this into a safe sleeping zone immediately. The property is city-owned and paved, has numerous reusable buildings for support, is isolated on three sides from surrounding neighborhoods, and is in close proximity to public transportation and social services.”
New made a similar pitch back in June, but the post office deal was still moving forward at that time.
Margaux Weeke, Ryan’s spokeswoman, says he’ll consider the idea.
“Commissioner Ryan appreciates community suggestions regarding siting for safe rest villages,” Weeke says. “While it’s appealing to consider the post office site to help support our unhoused neighbors, there is a plan for that site that many people put many years of thought and energy into—moving away from that plan will be an effort that takes time and thought as well.”
Prosper Portland recently completed a request for proposals to demolish the old post office building. It had planned to complete demolition by early next year.
New says that should be delayed.
“It’s up to you and Prosper Portland to stop the proposed demolition and implement a use that can humanely accommodate the community’s homeless population,” he wrote to Ryan and Wheeler.
Weeke says that option will be considered and, in the meantime, Ryan’s office will have news to share soon.
“Our safe rest villages team will evaluate the post office location to determine if it meets the siting criteria we developed for Commissioner Ryan’s initiative, but it’s premature for us to make any decisions at this time,” she says. “We are on track to announce the locations of three safe rest villages before the end of the month.”