Portland Public Schools district headquarters at 550 N. Wheeler Place in Portland, Oregon, Saturday, Dec. 15, 2018.

The building that houses Portland Public Schools' administrative offices has long been seen as a key piece of property in any redevelopment of inner Northeast Portland.

Bradley W. Parks / OPB

Portland Public Schools is not planning to sell its headquarters, at least not right now. But should district leaders decide to relocate, the first bid is likely to go to Albina Vision Trust, a nonprofit focused on revitalizing a part of Portland that was once a major hub of the city’s Black community.

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A resolution the PPS board approved Tuesday night allows the nonprofit the first chance at buying the property, should the district sell it.

Albina Vision isn’t the first to have interest in the Blanchard Educational Service Center, which is located just east of the Broadway Bridge; recent window shoppers have included a group intent on bringing Major League Baseball to Portland.

PPS leaders have long been polite but noncommittal when outside groups have expressed an interest in their property. People keep knocking on the door for a reason: the plain, faded orange building seems like the wrong use for a very important location: Perched next to Interstate 5 and TriMet light rail lines, the land overlooks the Willamette River, with picturesque views of downtown Portland and within easy walking distance of the Moda Center and Veterans Memorial Coliseum.

At the same time, the building is in the middle of the historic Albina neighborhood; that’s an area of Portland that was once home to much of Portland’s Black community, before it was torn apart by major construction projects, including I-5 and what would become Legacy Emanuel Medical Center.

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PPS is now signaling its support for the Albina Vision, an effort to reinvent and transform lower Albina. The school district is allowing the nonprofit a “right of first offer” on its main office. The board resolution also explicitly backs the group’s goals, saying it “stands firmly behind the Albina vision, a community-led reinvention and transformation of the 94-acres of lower Albina, from which thousands of primarily Black residents were forcibly displaced over decades of urban renewal.”

The resolution continues, “In this effort, we will stand shoulder to shoulder with the AVT and the Black community, to develop a youth-centered community in lower Albina that creates opportunities for Portland’s next generation of Black people to learn, build wealth and reclaim home.”

Local governments, including the city of Portland and Metro, have already been working to help advance Albina Vision’s plans.

Multnomah County has been the holder of a 99-year lease of part of the Blanchard property and had the original right of the first offer on the property. With the school board vote and the county’s support, that right shifts to Albina Vision Trust.

“Multnomah County shares Albina Vision Trust’s commitment to creating a more equitable future and ensuring that children and families have the opportunities and environment to thrive,” County Chair Deborah Kafoury said in a statement.

In its board resolution, PPS leaders said they are putting the district’s racial equity priorities into action by seizing “an opportunity to lead, not with race-neutral plans, but with an anti-racist agenda that amplifies an intergenerational healing process among students, their families, and our community.”

Board members note that the resolution connecting the Blanchard building to the Albina Vision comes at the same time that the district is working on plans to expand and improve learning opportunities for African-American students. The district’s most recent bond measure aims to rebuild Jefferson High School, a historically majority Black school, and establish a Center for Black Student Excellence.

“Children learn from what we say, but they also learn from what we do,” Rukaiyah Adams, the chair of Albina Vision Trust (and a member of OPB’s board of directors) said in a statement. “PPS and Multnomah County are teaching us how equity, love and bravery are expressed in public policy and civic leadership. In return, AVT offers steadfast commitment to excellence, healing and shared prosperity for many generations to come.”

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