Police, firefighters and other city employees spent Wednesday morning surveying and searching a neglected commercial building downtown that has become a den for drug use.

Following a Willamette Week report last month about Washington Center becoming a drug market and squatting grounds, Mayor Ted Wheeler ordered around-the-clock police patrols of the private property. The building’s owners owe thousands of dollars to the local Downtown Clean & Safe enhanced service district, and let the building fall into disrepair. 

On April 12, the city launched a multi-bureau effort to search the property at Southwest Washington Street and 4th Avenue, before contractors boarded it up to keep trespassers out. 

No one was found inside the building and no arrests were made Wednesday, according to the Portland Police Bureau, but dozens of arrests have been made at the site in the weeks prior, along with a string of overdoses. On March 31, police responded to 11 overdose calls downtown, three of which were fatal. More than half of the overdose calls were either at the same block as Washington Center, or within a few blocks. 

Wheeler’s office said the city worked with the property owner, and a real estate investment company, to hire a private contractor to board up and secure the building’s perimeter after police inspected it in an effort to keep trespassers out. 

Photos: Portland Police Bureau  Left: A police officer surveys the roof of Washington Center.
Right: Contractors affix plywood to the perimeter of Washington Center in downtown Portland. 

The mayor said his office has “been in frequent communications over a months-long period” with Washington Center’s owner, to address lingering issues and drug use at the abandoned commercial property. 

“I want to express my gratitude to the many people who have been working to bring solutions to this site. These efforts required close coordination among the community and numerous City bureaus and offices to reclaim a private property that has posed significant safety challenges downtown,” Wheeler said in a news release, touting recent efforts to increase police bureau staffing.