Homeless advocate urges county to delay Wapato sale vote
Portland homeless advocate Stuart Emmons is urging the Multnomah County Commission to delay approving the sale of Wapato Jail on Thursday until the current offer can be independently evaluated.
Acting with unusual speed for a government, the commission is scheduled to vote on the sale of the unused facility to Kehoe Properties Northwest just a little over a week after announcing it was pursuing the offer. The proceeds would be used to fund homeless services. The details of the offer were not immediately available.
Emmons, a Portland architect considering running for the City Council, is one of several advocates who say the never-opened 525-bed facility in North Portland would be best used as a homeless shelter and service center. He says at least two other parties had submitted such offers for the property.
"I encourage you to delay a vote this Thursday, Nov. 9, on the sale of the Wapato Facility until a professional, independent review has been done on the merits and risks associated with the Kehoe offer. In addition, the two (at least) other proposals submitted that propose a shelter for people experiencing homelessness should be reviewed and analyzed by independent professionals for long term benefit to the County's residents. I also encourage you to delay a vote on the resolution to direct the proceeds from Wapato to fund housing strategies until the true cost benefits are determined," Emmons wrote to the commission on Monday, shortly after realizing the potential sale was on the Nov. 9 agenda.
One of those offers was submitted by prominent Portland developers Barry and Jordan Menashe, who own Menashe Commercial Properties. They have previously allowed one of their vacant downtown properties to be used as a temporary homeless shelter. The Oregonian has reported Kehoe's offer calls for the facility to be used as a medical equipment distribution center.
"Barry and I are both continually and daily disturbed and disgusted by the way the city and county are responding to the homeless epidemic. Wapato is a pristine facility with a kitchen and basketball courts and more that could help the homeless. It's not warehousing the homeless. The county's decision is very disappointing," said Jordan, who would not discuss the details of their offer.
But Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury disputes Jordan's version of the offer.
"That is not true. Jordan Menashe submitted an offer on Wapato, but that offer made no reference to a homeless shelter or homeless service center. The offer expired. At that point, Mr. Menashe withdrew all interest and chose not to participate further. We did receive other offers, and I am pleased that we now have this signed letter of intent to move forward," Kafoury said in a statement emailed to the Portland Tribune.
The 155,400-square-foot jail sits on 18.24 acres of industrial land in the Rivergate Industrial Park. It cost $58 million to build. An analysis by the Portand Tribune shows the total cost to date is more than $90 million, including interest and maintenance payments, and could exceed $105 million by the time all the bonds are finally paid off in 2030.
"Wapato has dogged every board and cost every taxpayer since it was completed,'' Kafoury said when the county announced the potential sale. "It is past time to end this debacle and get this property back on the tax rolls."
After receiving six proposals, Kafoury signed a letter of intent to sell the property to Kehoe on Tuesday, Oct. 31. The board must approve the actual sale.
The county did not immediately disclose the dollar amount of the offer, but Wapato was appraised as an industrial building for $8.5 million in 2014.
Two previous unsolicited offers fell through over the past year. This offer came through CBRE Portland real estate services, which the county retained several months ago to sell surplus properties.
County Commissioner Loretta Smith has proposed Wapato be converted to a homeless treatment and residential facility, an idea supported by some homeless advocates but opposed by others. A majority of the commission has opposed that idea, however.
Emmons has filed a public records request to obtain all information on offers for the property, which he believes should be used as a homeless shelter and treatment center.
Among other things, Emmons is requesting all conditions and purchase prices in the offers, plus all emails, letters, texts and phone records between Kehoe representatives and county commissioners and staff members.
"I'm now officially mad; 1,600 people are suffering on our streets, with life-threatening conditions imminent, and the County, which could house probably over 600 at Wapato, does not seem to care. We may see nearly 100 deaths on our streets this winter if past statistics are a forecaster," Emmons emailed the Portland Tribune after the potential sale was announced last week.
In the past, Kafoury pursued two unsolicted offers for the facility, located at 14355 N. Bybee Lake Court. The first was a $9 million offer from real estate speculator Garison Russo. He withdrew it after the Portland Tribune questioned his development experience and financial backing in a series of articles. Pacific Development Partners made a $10 million offer earlier this year, but it lapsed before being completed.
Other surplus county properties will be for sale in the near future through CBRE. They may include the McCoy Building at 426 S.W. Stark St., which is being replaced with a new health center currently under consruction next to the Bud Clark Commons in Old Town/Chinatown. Another is the Central Courthouse at 1021 S.W. Fourth Ave., which is being replaced with a new courthouse currently under construction at the west end of the Hawthorne Bridge.
You can read Emmon's letter here.