Albina Vision Trust proposes buying Portland school district building, moving PPS headquarters downtown

By Rob Manning (OPB) and Natalie Pate (OPB)
Jan. 24, 2024 2 p.m.

The nonprofit argues it would be a mutually beneficial partnership and that it would bolster the historically Black neighborhood of Albina.

The Albina Vision Trust, a nonprofit focused on improving a historically Black neighborhood in North Portland, is looking to solve two problems at once: acquire a linchpin property overlooking the Willamette River with the potential to transform the Albina neighborhood, while also relieving Oregon’s largest school district of the likely hefty costs to update its large, aging administration building.

The proposal isn’t entirely out of the blue. It follows an agreement from more than three years ago, when Portland Public Schools agreed that if leaders moved toward selling what was then called the Blanchard Education Service Center, then AVT would get the first crack at buying it.

The Portland Public Schools district office in Portland, Ore., Oct. 20, 2023. PPS received a proposal in January 2024 to enter a partnership with Albina Vision Trust, which would transfer the property to the trust and move the district headquarters downtown.

The Portland Public Schools district office in Portland, Ore., Oct. 20, 2023. PPS received a proposal in January 2024 to enter a partnership with Albina Vision Trust, which would transfer the property to the trust and move the district headquarters downtown.

Kristyna Wentz-Graff / OPB

The district also previously tasked the nonprofit with gathering community input, capital and plans to move toward their vision. They did just that, including bringing in more than $70 million in new investments for Lower Albina.

Trust leaders, in a presentation to school board members Tuesday, are now calling for a new public-private partnership between the two institutions. They believe the time is now for PPS to pursue a sale of some kind, giving two big reasons: The market for office space favors finding space right now, and the building now named the Dr. Matthew Prophet Education Center isn’t getting any younger.

AVT estimates the district is facing at least $14 million in deferred maintenance costs and up to $81 million if the costs of seismic retrofits are added in. Their data, based on an independent study requested by the district and commissioned by the AVT, pegs a full renovation of the Prophet Center at $220 million.

The nonprofit believes there would be no future costs of the administrative building under an agreement with AVT. In fact, they said it’s a cost-neutral option that could win district leaders political points, showcasing themselves as sound fiscal leaders.

The study also asserted that the value of the property is in the land — not the building — so any investment in building improvements, as AVT director of real estate Carly Harrison explained it, would be “throwing money away.”

As for the future site, AVT doesn’t have a specific location in mind, but they’ve found at least 14 potential options. These options are based on an initial search with needs such as on-site parking, large meeting spaces, affordability and access to public transportation in mind.


The trust’s promise to the board: to help them acquire a new building that matches or exceeds the Prophet Center’s current value.

“I don’t know that you would ever find anybody else who comes to you saying, ‘We don’t want any of your money. We just want you to do the right thing,’” Winta Yohannes, executive director of AVT, told the school board Tuesday night. Audience members clapped in response.

“And in the process,” she continued, “we will solve your problem, in terms of the financial liability, while sharing tremendous benefits with the broader community.”

AVT says the property could make way for more than 1,000 units of central city housing, not to mention far less tangible or quantifiable rewards.

“What reason does an east side child have to go west? None. Give them one,” said JT Flowers, a Portland graduate who does strategic communications for AVT. “What space has been built to keep them safe? None. Give them one.”

Flowers went further in his words to the board, saying the relocation of the Prophet Center is more than the redevelopment of Lower Albina, and it’s more than the creation of new housing.

“We come before you with a once-in-a-generation opportunity to make our students, our families in our city, east side and west, whole again,” he said. “I urge you not to let it slip through your fingers.”

There was a broad consensus from the board members to move forward with this effort. Though there were some questions and concerns about the logistics of a move and the due diligence they would need to complete before then, the district plans to work with AVT to draft a resolution to kick things off.

Yohannes said AVT would like to have the resolution ready for the Feb. 6 meeting if possible, then voted on before the end of the month. School board members didn’t promise that, but they were generally in favor of the timeline.

The nonprofit and district would then have 30 days to establish a work plan, according to the nonprofit’s proposal, followed by six to nine months to identify and commit to a new headquarters site for central office workers and its warehouse.

They’d then enter into purchase agreements, which could take about 18-36 months, to complete the due diligence and acquisition before officially relocating.

“The time is now,” Yohannes said. “The place is here. And the people are ready.”