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Alberta Commons: looking for lessees
While affordable housing is a tool for equity that's been surging in Portland, Prosper Portland has come up with another new strategy to implement: affordable commercial space in new construction.
The first affordable commercial space program in Portland opened applications for its second location Monday, Sept. 11.
Prosper Portland has announced that its Affordable Commercial Tenanting Program is now available at Alberta Commons, the Natural Grocers-anchored project at the corner of Northeast Martin Luther King Boulevard and Alberta Street. It's also available in two of the Lents Town Center projects.
The program offers qualified businesses an equitable application process, access to space, and in some cases additional incentives designed to lower the barriers to entry for emerging and small businesses, such as reduced rent, tenant improvement contributions and technical assistance.
Finding the perfect package
Alison Wicks is the project coordinator at Prosper Portland working on the project.
"The way that it works is Prosper Portland has a master lease with the developer and so we're going to be subleasing about 5,100 square feet and that'll likely be to about four to five different tenants," Wicks said. "Through that process, we have a ten-year master lease agreement."
California-based Majestic is the developer on the deal, working on the Natural Grocers portion of the Alberta Commons project.
"We're really thinking about this comprehensively, not just about space but about what packages of tools and resources we can provide to businesses," Wicks said.
The program is also available at two sites in Lents Town Center in southeast Portland and will expand to include a site in downtown Portland as well. Available space in the affordable tenanting program totals 5,125 square feet and can be divided into smaller units.
"We're exploring how we can continue to play a role in bringing affordability" Wicks said. Really the whole program is not only about space but about what other technical services and financial support we can give to businesses that are struggling."
The affordable tenanting program is designed to address a recent dramatic increase in retail rents and decrease in vacancy rates in the city of Portland which have resulted in the displacement of small businesses from Portland's urban neighborhoods.
"We have a set of criteria: we're definitely looking for active destination businesses," Wicks said. "We're looking for something that will add to the retail mix of the area, and also businesses led by business owners from underrepresented populations — women, people of color, particularly the African-American community and business owners from low-income neighborhoods."
The set of criteria to apply is pretty straightforward, and available on the website (see sidebar).
"Not only businesses that are bringing a use or a concept of something that's needed and desired in the area, but that meet our equity goals, also have been in business for two years, they have appropriate industry experience, they're businesses with the financial qualifications," Wicks said. "We are going to start our leasing process now, with the idea of looking at entering into leases in November, with December through May as that buildout period."
The Natural Grocers is opening in February, and it is hoped that the other retail stores will open by then as well.
Tory Campbell, entrepreneurship and community economic development manager with Prosper Portland, said the rent prices aren't set in stone right now.
"We determined to arrange the baseline range that we feel comfortable with in negotiating leases," Campbell told the Business Tribune. "There's always the possibility of that being different for each tenant based on what they can handle."
The program seeks to assist underrepresented businesses, preserve the vitality of small businesses, provide business development opportunities that in turn offer needed goods and services to the community and advance the agency's goal to build an equitable economy.
"The goal of these commercial retail storefronts is to make it affordable for any business going in, no matter what the business is," Campbell said. "They should be getting a much better deal in new construction retail."
According to Prosper Portland, Alberta Commons presents a unique opportunity for small businesses, including those owned by people of color, to gain a foothold in the retail mix of the area, provide needed goods and services to the neighborhood and create lasting, beneficial relationships with the Northeast Portland community.
The recent history of the site, which had plans for a Trader Joe's that was infamously overturned by an outraged community, sparked fresh conversations on how Prosper Portland's developments need to include certain community benefits.
"That's been our guiding framework thinking about, can we make sure this space includes space for underserved business owners to have access to new construction retail space," Campbell said. "That now spawned us thinking more strategically what does this look like in new developments we currently have? This is one of several we're piloting."
A program goal is to directly support to local businesses based in the Portland region and businesses that align with the goals of the North/Northeast Community Development Initiative Action Plan — led by African-Americans and people of color.
"Northeast Portland is definitely a part of Portland seeing increasing rents and decreasing vacancies," Wicks said. "Part of this is making sure more types of businesses get access to that new construction — that's something we're also seeing around the city."
Lents Commons and Oliver Station, part of the Lents urban renewal area of four developments — the last of which broke ground this week — are both in the affordable commercial space program as well.
Alberta Commons is currently under construction with completion expected in November 2017.
By Jules Rogers
Reporter, The Business Tribune
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