Wapato Jail May Be Spared Demolition As Owner Searches For Funder

By Rebecca Ellis (OPB)
Nov. 12, 2019 1:11 a.m.

Jordan Schnitzer is launching another push to convert North Portland’s never-used Wapato Jail into a homeless shelter, a reversal from his Oct. 10 announcement that the demolition of the facility was all but guaranteed.

Schnitzer, president of Harsch Investment Properties, opened up the doors of Wapato for a public tour last Friday afternoon. The event was attended by Democratic state Sen. Betsy Johnson, an old friend of Schnitzer’s, and Alan Evans, the founder of Helping Hands, a nonprofit that operates emergency shelters in Clatsop, Yamhill and Tillamook counties.


After purchasing the facility last year, Schnitzer routinely invited local nonprofits, public officials and business executives to tour the facility and envision its conversion into a shelter. But by October, Schnitzer said he was ready to demolish the facility by the end of the month and repurpose the land unless a funder stepped up to convert it into a homeless shelter.


It’s not clear whether such financing appeared or Schnitzer simply couldn’t bring himself to carry out a demolition he had previously said “sickened" him. Schnitzer has not yet responded to interview requests and only one member of the press appears to have attended Friday’s tour.

A KXL reporter tweeted Monday that Schnitzer would be working with Johnson and Evans to make Wapato “a recovery and wellness center for the homeless.”

Reached Monday, Evans called the tweet “absolutely premature” and said stakeholders were not yet ready to talk “with one voice” about new plans for Wapato. He said a team was working on “a communication plan” that would be ready by ‪Friday. Evans declined to say who made up that team.

Johnson said she attended the tour as a friend of Schnitzer’s and plays no role in shaping the facility’s future.

Hayden Island Neighborhood Association Chair Jeff Geisler, who has encouraged other neighborhood associations to support turning Wapato into a shelter, said Schnitzer called him last week to tell him he wanted to make one more attempt at sparing the long vacant jail from bulldozers.‬

“The bell was about to get rung, he had three demolition contracts on his desk,” Geisler said. “And he still didn’t give up.”