The frustrated owner of North Portland’s never-used Wapato Jail has announced he will bulldoze the facility in the coming months — unless someone comes up with funding to convert the facility into a homeless shelter in the next two weeks.

Jordan Schnitzer, president of Harsch Investment Properties, said Thursday he planned to sign a demolition contract by the month’s end. Assuming no last minute stakeholder steps in, Schnitzer said his company will break ground on a new warehouse in its place by early spring. 

Schnitzer said he was “sickened” that a year-and-a half-long quest to convert the 150,000-square foot jail into a shelter would end with the facility reduced to rubble. But city leaders, along with local nonprofits, had been reticent to place the city’s homeless in adapted jail cells 11 miles away from Portland’s downtown core. And Schnitzer had held he needed their buy-in to forge ahead with the plan.

“After 18 months and a million or two in costs, we have no choice but to say that’s it,” Schnitzer told reporters at a press conference. “We still have not gotten anything in writing to do a lease.”

Wapato Jail in North Portland has never been used.

Wapato Jail in North Portland has never been used.

Kayo Lackey/OPB

Multnomah County finished the $58 million jail in 2004, but never came up with the money to operate it. The county sold the facility in 2018 to developer Marty Kehoe, who in turn sold it to Schnitzer.

Within a few months, Schnitzer warned the project might be doomed due to lack of funds. He filed for a demolition permit in November. 

Still, Schnitzer apparently held onto hope that a well-heeled funder would step in to save the facility. Just last month, he appeared in a promotional video advocating for the facility to be converted to a “wellness center” for the area’s homeless, saying it was “all set to go.”

But, as the The Oregonian/OregonLive reported, time has almost run out on the demolition permit, which is set to expire at the end of October.

In a statement Wednesday, Multnomah County said it was glad that Schnitzer had “reached the conclusion that he can’t afford to warehouse people in this remote jail.” It was clear, they said, that it was “the wrong building in the wrong place.”