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The developer has leased the unopened jail in North Portland to serve as a homeless shelter.

PMG FILE PHOTO - The never-opened former Multnomah County Wapato Jail in North Portland.Plans to convert the never-opened former Multnomah County Wapato Jail into a recovery and wellness center have taken a major step forward.

Owner Jordan Schnitzer announced his development company has signed a lease on Wednesday, May 6, with Helping Hands Reentry Outreach Centers to create the Bybee Lakes Hope Center. Harsch Investments Properties will lease the facility in North Portland to the nonprofit organization for $1 year.

"After two years of looking for the right partner, we are now entering into a five-year lease with Helping Hands Reentry Outreach Centers to renovate and repurpose the project formerly known as Wapato," said Schnitzer, whose company purchased the property in 2018.

Helping Hands was founded by Alan Evans, a formerly homeless ex-con, whose organization now consists of 11 facilities in four counties serving more than 240 Oregonians every day.

"Alan Evans and his team have so far achieved all the benchmarks I established for them when we met in late 2019, including establishing a Portland advisory board, raising $4 million dollars in private funding, and creating a business plan for the Bybee Lakes Hope Center," Schnitzer said.

At the 155,400 square foot facility, support services will be co-located with two categories of mass housing: an emergency shelter and program-based transitional housing. Helping Hands will open three of the nine existing wings at the facility and house up to 228 beds in the first year of operation. At full capacity, the Hope Center could serve 525 people.

"It has been a pleasure working with Jordan Schnitzer and Harsch Investment Properties to make this dream come true. We know that there is a giant need for our services, and this facility is perfect to provide trauma-informed assistance to the homeless in the Portland metro area," Evans said. "We are grateful for this relationship and we look forward to a long partnership with Harsch."

In addition to finalizing the lease, Helping Hands has been working with construction project managers at DAY CPM on a team to complete the design and construction of the center. After a Request for Proposals process, Helping Hands awarded the renovation project to Precision Construction Co. as its general contractor. Precision Construction is an affiliate of Hoffman Construction, the general contractor hired to build the Wapato Facility in 2003. The architecture and engineering services were awarded to Otak.

PMG FILE PHOTO - Developer Jordan Schnitzer during a January 2020 open house at Wapato.

"The Precision team includes individuals who originally worked on the build and are ready to hit the ground running with intimate knowledge of the site, design and structure," Evans said. "Their collaborative approach and understanding of the building will allow us to get this project finished on a strict timeline and budget."

Established in 1985 as a special projects division of Hoffman Construction, Precision Construction specializes in complex, high-impact projects,

employing 50 people. Their office is in Northeast Portland, just three miles from the Bybee Lakes Hope Center project.

"We understand how important this project is to the most vulnerable members of our community," said Troy Weller, president of Precision Construction. "We are eager to support Helping Hands's vision at the Bybee Lakes Hope Center."

Multnomah County built Wapato as a 525-bed medium-security jail and treatment center in North Portland more than a decade ago for $58 million. It never opened because the Multnomah County Commission never funded its operation. Total costs, including maintenance and interest, exceeded $100 million before the county sold it.

County Chair Deborah Kafoury consistently opposed using Wapato for the homeless because it is far from existing social services.

Schnitzer said the remote location is a benefit for treating with substance abuse and other problems.

Schnitzer bought Wapato for $5 million in April 2018. He has been working to open at least part of it to serve the homeless ever since.


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