"I went into this thing saying, 'let's do our best to fix these places up,'" said Sullivan. "Keep the rent reasonable and foster local small businesses."
Sullivan turned the derelict buildings into a series of clean storefronts, housing a cafe, an Italian-style coffeeshop and an Irish bar. The barber shop, operated since 1970 by Leon Riggins, remained. But, virtually overnight, Riggin's rent doubled, from $260 to $460. Moreover, in a surrounding neighborhood where the population is almost half African-American, Riggins is the only non-white business owner in nine businesses.
Still, Sullivan believes that he is doing the right thing. "If I didn't stumble onto this place," he claimed, "somebody else would have and they would have fucked it up." In comparison, he points to a large-scale development one block down that includes a grandiose Nature's and Starbucks, where, Sullivan explains, much of the revenue flows out of the city of Portland and into the coffers of out-of-state corporations.
However, other business owners do not share Sullivan's view that his development is the right thing for the existing neighborhood. They point out that one of the cornerstone businesses in the development, County Cork, an Irish bar, was actively recruited from the Hawthorne neighborhood.
Gale Causey, an African-American businesswoman who owns It's All Good (a gift shop currently on NE Martin Luther King Blvd), was looking to relocate her store. A lifelong resident of Northeast Portland, Causey said that she felt locked out of the new development site.
"When I first went in there, they told me all the spaces were pretty much spoken for," said Causey. "I felt like they already had a plan for what they wanted there and I wasn't included in it."