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Trader Joe's pulls out of controversial project

by: TRIBUNE PHOTO JONATHAN HOUSE - Tony Hopson (left), Founder and CEO/President and co-chair of the Portland African American Leadership Forum speaks at the press conference against the city's plan for a vacant Northeast Portland block on Monday.Trader Joe's has pulled out of a controversial urban renewal project in Northeast Portland.

News of the withdrawal broke as African-American community members were holding a press conference on the site to demand the Portland Development Commission to halt it. They want community members to determine what is built there, but say affordable housing is a must.

"It was never just about Trader Joe's. It has always been about finding out what the community wants," said PAALF member Steven Gilliam.

by: TRIBUNE PHOTO JONATHAN HOUSE - Protester and reporters gathered at the controversial project site on Monday. It is a block that has sat vacant for many years.According to Gilliam and the others, the vacant block at at Northeast Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. and Alberta Street represents an opportunity for city officials to reduce the harm done to minority communities in North and Northeast Portland by PDC-backed gentrification.

Mayor Charlie Hales' office released a statement from Hales and the PDC which said, "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."

The next steps for the on the vacant block are unclear. The Portland African American leadership Forum, which organized the press conference, will hold a series of listening sessions this month so that community members can say what they want to be built on the site. Hales and the PDC said they will be communicated with community and project stakeholders, but did not promise to accept anyone's recommendations at this point.

"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," said Hales and the PDC.

The block has been vacant for many years. It is just south of Vanport Plaza, an urban renewal project occupied by small businesses, many of which had supported the Trader Joe's project.

The vacant block is valued at $2.4 million. The PDC had agreed to sell it to Majestic Realty, a California-based development project, for just $500,000 to encourage the project.

The schedule of the PAALF listening sessions will be posted on the organization's website at aalfnw.org.