Four months after Trader Joe's definitively killed any hopes it might reconsider an abandoned plan to move to NE MLK and Alberta—fallout from controversy over gentrification and claims of miscommunication—Mayor Charlie Hales' office this morning has just announced a fallback deal reviving the city's plans for the long-vacant lot.
Natural Grocers, a chain based out of Colorado, has agreed to serve as the anchor tenant in a project run by a Southern California developer and subsidized by the Portland Development Commission, the city's urban renewal agency. The chain, which has four other stores in Portland already, is known for its health food. But it's also known, according to the city's statement, for some community-friendly qualities that distinguish it from Trader Joe's.
Beyond a place to buy healthy food, the new store brings many additional benefits to the Northeast Portland community, including: an on-site credentialed nutritional health coach, provided at no charge, to answer questions, help with meal planning and provide one-on-one nutrition counseling, along with other free nutrition education options like cooking classes and demonstrations, and lectures on topics of interest to the community.
Hales, back in March, had reached an accord with the community groups who'd criticized both the substance of the Trader Joe's proposal and the city's handling of it—airing grievances whose roots run decades deep, into the city's lamentable history of redlining and neglecting some African American neighborhoods, while dismantling others, only to rebuild and re-invest once they began to gentrify.
Part of that peace deal was a promise to spend $20 million more on affordable housing in the urban renewal area that includes the project site. The zone stretches from the Rose Quarter up MLK and down N Lombard into St. Johns, areas that traditionally have been home to non-white Portlanders. Today's statement says that money will be used to help complement commercial development on MLK and that the Portland Housing Bureau and Commissioner Dan Saltzman's office are convening community groups toward the goal of figuring out what's needed and where that investment might wind up.
Construction, the city says, is expected to start in 2015. The Skanner, which was given early notice of today's press release along with the Oregonian, says signs with the construction company's name, Colas Construction, an African American-owned concern, have already gone up on the site.
Click here (pdf) to read the city's full announcement.