Just hours after quoting a "top Majestic Realty official" saying he weighs the controversy over a new Trader Joe's at NE Alberta and MLK "every day"—part of a story exploring a lobbying rules technicality with the city's urban renewal director—the Oregonian is now reporting the deal is off the table.
And it's because Trader Joe's wants out. Not because the developer has reconsidered.
"We run neighborhood stores and our approach is simple: if a neighborhood does not want a Trader Joe's, we understand, and we won't open the store in question," reads the essential line in a longer statement published by the O.
The Portland Development Commission's deal, selling Majestic land worth nearly $3 million for just $500,000, has been beset by concerns over gentrification ever since details went public in the fall.
Activists wanted housing and something that fit in with the neighborhood's historic character. Supporters of the proposal said adding a major grocery store—there's a Safeway nearby, which I guess counts...— would help support a second project at the corner filled with local small businesses. The PDC approved it last year.
Last week, Majestic announced it had chosen African American-owned Colas Construction as its contractor on the project. One of Colas' vice presidents, Aneskha Dickson, sits on the PDC's board.
It's unclear if the decision by Trader Joe's was influenced by this morning's report in the O that PDC director Patrick Quinton, before the vote on the project, attended a food-and-wine networking event hosted by Majestic. Quinton put the event on his public calendar but didn't list it on his lobbying gift reports. The PDC's attorney told the O that Quinton didn't have to, because the Trader Joe's project wasn't discussed at the event.
Update 12:55 PM: Mayor Charlie Hales, who oversees the PDC, has called the announcement "a loss for the city and particularly for Northeast Portland" in a statement just sent out by his spokesman.
We respect today’s decisions by Trader Joe’s and Majestic. We appreciate the various concerns raised by neighbors and other stakeholders, both in favor of, and opposed to, this project.
In all, we view today’s news as a loss for the city and particularly for Northeast Portland.
We are grateful for the effort that Colas Construction, a local, minority-owned construction company, put into making this project happen and we recognize all the hard work Majestic Realty has invested in this effort over the past two years.
Moving forward, we will be communicating with the various stakeholders: Including those who wanted this development and who were excited about it, and those who didn’t want it to happen.
It is too soon to say what comes next for this site. We will work with the full range of stakeholders to determine the next steps. And we remain committed to working with stakeholders to find projects for this and other development sites throughout the city.
Update 4 PM: The Portland African American Leadership Forum, leading the protests against the Majestic Realty proposal, addressed the news during a previously scheduled press conference at the development site this afternoon. They said their main grievance has been about displacement of black Portlanders the PDC's work in historically African American neighborhoods—not the prospect of a Trader Joe's.
The O's North and Northeast Portland reporter covered it:
In the past we have settled for far less,” [former State Senator Avel] Gordly said. “This is a people’s movement for African Americans and other communities, for self-determination.”
PAALF members reiterated previous demands to include an affordable housing component on the two-acre lot and issued several demands.
PAALF leaders said the development commission should publish a comprehensive accounting of the tax increment financing and spending in the Interstate corridor urban renewal area and compose a legally binding community benefits agreement to ensure the employment of African Americans in the construction of PDC sites.
The group also asked for the development commission to create a small business assistance fund for the shops and restaurants in Vanport Plaza.