Portland developer Jordan Schnitzer said Monday he recently received a "fabulous" proposal by the Volunteers of America to locate a drug and alcohol rehab and transitional housing center for senior citizens at the never-used Wapato jail site his company acquired last year.
Schnitzer said he has immense respect for the capabilities of Kay Toran, chief executive of the Volunteers of America Oregon. "I think they have a sterling record," he said.
"She said the facility is perfect for them," he said.
Dubbed the Community Wellness Center, it could start with about 100 men and women, he said, but the plan would be to expand from there. "The facility can handle 400 or 500 people, and there's room to expand," he said.
"It would be a collaboration among treatment providers, social service agencies, hospital systems and universities to provide holistic remedies to clients who need support in behavioral health, substance use disorders, and issues related to homelessness," according to an email statement from Harsch Investment Properties, Schnitzer's company and the owner of the property.
When he acquired the site last spring from developer Marty Kehoe, Schnitzer said his first call was to fellow developer Homer Williams, who had expressed interest in repurposing Wapato for a homeless program. But after nine months, he hasn't heard back from Williams about a proposal.
Toran was the second person he contacted, Schnitzer said, but nothing came of it until she presented a 15-page proposal to him two weeks ago.
Schnitzer has considered leveling Wapato and building a warehouse on the site, which is the primary business of Harsch Investment Properties. He has obtained permits to demolish the former jail site, including a wide swath of trees that serve as a buffer between the jail site and the adjacent Smith and Bybee Wetlands Natural Area owned by Metro.
But the site was designed as a jail by Multnomah County, and it offers many amenities for large-scale residential programs, including food preparation, a medical and dental clinic and other facilities. Schnitzer said it's "breaking my heart" to think of it being torn down, and he promised himself to do everything he can to find a nonprofit that would repurpose the facility before pursuing a warehouse.
There are talks underway with the University of Portland to colocate a nursing education program there with the Volunteers of America program, and with Providence Health Systems to locate a clinic of some sort, he said.
Toran has contacted TriMet, which appeared willing to arrange a new transit service to the site, Schnitzer said.
Harsch is one of Oregon's largest property owners and developers, but Schnitzer also is one of the state's leading philanthropists. He said he has served on 32 different nonprofit boards.
Schnitzer said Toran will seek operating funds from the state and from Multnomah County. He also promised to help with fundraising if there is a viable program.
"So far, I have seen one good idea after another (for the property) not get to the finish line," he said. "But if anyone can do it, it's Kay Toran."
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