A broken promise in Buckman
It was a little over seven years ago that the Portland City Council voted to start negotiating with the local school district to buy the long-empty Washington High School complex at SE 12th and Stark and turn it into a community center run by the parks bureau. It was a rare victory for the long-suffering Buckman neighborhood, which watched for years as the city built fancy swimming pools and other facilities in other parts of town while leaving close-in southeast residents lacking for recreational opportunities.
"It's already being built," said Francesconi, referring to the long-standing push for such a community center for inner southeast Portland. "You folks in the central east side have been building it." He also said making sure the community center happens is his "number one priority."Well, guess what. The city bought some of the property around the school, apparently for $2 million, tearing down the gym and some other structures, but didn't buy the main building itself. Several options were being discussed for the community center configuration, but now the school district's selling the structure to one of Portland's many apartment mongers, who is slated to turn it into "housing and business space" with the historic features of the building preserved.
Saying that the City should do more of this sort of thing, Commissioner Leonard said, "I'm very pleased we've come to this opportunity." Commissioner Erik Sten added that this was "a terrific first step, and a long time in coming."
Mayor Vera Katz said that she has the responsibilty to see that the project goes forward, but cautioned that the process is just beginning. Funding, for example, will have to come from a "combination of a lot of different sources" because "there is no pocket left to pick."
One outraged neighbor writes us to complain that when the city was discussing a purchase of the main building for the community center, the school district was asking $8 million. But "once a developer weasel had been selected (non-competitively, of course) the price magically dropped to $2 million." The county tax assessor lists the real market value of the property as $3,308,270.
There has been some talk of having the parks bureau lease the ground floor of the renovated high school from the developer for some community center-type functions. That prospect has fallen by the wayside in the latest news report, but even if it's still on the table, it's a far cry from what the neighbors were promised seven years ago. It's sad that with all the money the city has for neon rose signs, streetcars, bike paths, bioswales, and so on, there's no money for a recreational facility in the heart of Portland.
It's also kind of odd that the public schools would sell the building to the developer, and then the public parks would lease part of it back from him. But isn't that the Portland way? The real estate sharpies get the taxpayers coming and going.
It could have been worse. When an old property is left to rot, Buckman usually gets a methadone clinic, a homeless shelter, or some other high-impact social service facility in its place. But more apartments? Sheesh. Thanks for nothing.
And get used to this. The condo scoundrels are licking their chops over lots of the school district's other properties, especially Lincoln High School. The sweet Washington High deal is the first of many to come. As they used to say at the old WaHi prom, the boys have already gotten to third base with the politicians.