It could have been just another shopping center. Just another collection of chain stores like those you can visit in any other part of the country. But Vanport Square is different.
Nearly six years in the making, the first phase of the Vanport Square project is now officially open for business, although it will be several more months before all 16 businesses move into their new storefronts.
Developer Jeana Woolley said, unlike many developments, Vanport Square, 5257 N.E. Killingsworth St., offers local, small businesses an opportunity to purchase and own their shops, rather than lease the space at the whim of landlords.
Because the commercial units are for sale, they are being sold as "cold shells" – unfinished and unfurnished. This allows buyers to complete the interior to meet their business needs — an enticing prospect for business owners. So far, 14 of the 16 units are spoken for and the remaining two are awaiting final contract negotiations.
Nine of the 16 businesses are women or minority owned. Among the businesses moving into Vanport Square are: Horn of Africa restaurant, Vanport Café, Tran Allstate Insurance, Norell Design and Cascade Energy.
Horn of Africa restaurant owner Mohamed Yousuf says the commercial space – known as a commercial condominium – is going to be a boost for his business. Yousuf started out in the highly competitive restaurant business 14 years ago, with a stall in Saturday Market. His current site is also on Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.
"I was always planning to buy a building," he said. "This was a short cut for me."
Because of the cost of the units and the risks involved in running small businesses, it can be difficult to find the additional funding for the condominium improvements – getting a unit from cold shell to fully finished. For banks, Woolley says, it's a different and less familiar type of financing arrangement.
Luckily, one local bank was willing to step forward to help qualified small businesses finance the cold shell improvements.
"Because Albina Bank's mission was to invest in the community, they were more willing to (consider the loans)," Woolley said.
The fact that the small businesses located at Vanport will own their property instead of renting will help wealth creation in the neighborhood, as well as business expansion opportunities.
The development's construction was done with environmental concerns in mind as well. Woolley says the cluster of buildings should qualify for LEED Gold Standard – the nationally recognized green and sustainable building standard.
"This is a goal we should all be working toward," Woolley said.
Still in the plans are two more phases to the Vanport Development – a row of single family homes on the properties West side and another commercial development on the adjacent block to the South. Although the homes were scheduled to be built before the second commercial development, Woolley says the current housing market is keeping that project sidelined.
Woolley expects drawings and plans for Vanport phase III to announced within several months. She said they are currently in talks with a business that will serve as the business center's "anchor tenant." Unlike Vanport Square, Woolley said the units would most likely be for lease, not for sale.