In mid-April, Multnomah County sold the Wapato Jail to developer Marty Kehoe for $5 million. When the deal was completed, Kehoe called it a "long-term investment" where he intended to "build warehouse buildings in the future."
But since that sale, Jordan Schnitzer, president of Harsch Investment Properties and a local philanthropist, bought the property from Kehoe. The exact nature of the transaction has been the subject of some confusion, with early reports saying Schnitzer had bought a "stake" in the jail.
In a "Think Out Loud" interview, host Dave Miller asked Schnitzer point-blank whether he was, for all intents and purposes, the owner of the property. Schnitzer responded: "That's correct."
Schnitzer expanded on the transaction, explaining that he and Kehoe had an agreement in place before the original sale.
“If he were to get approved, we would step into his shoes and take over ownership. He would stay on board with us to help strategize what to do with it,” Schnitzer told Miller.
When the jail was sold in mid-April, it appeared efforts to convert the facility into temporary homeless housing had hit a dead end. Schnitzer said it's certainly possible the jail will be razed or developed in some other way, but his highest and best hope for the property is still a homeless shelter of some kind.
“The first call I made after we took ownership of it was to Homer Williams, an old friend, who is working very hard to work on the homeless issue we've got in the community.”
Williams had made his own offer to the county to buy Wapato to turn it into a homeless shelter, but his offer was rejected.
Schnitzer wants to bring other service providers, nonprofits, and community organizations together to figure out the future of Wapato. He wants to be a part of an effort to curb homelessness in Portland.
“I think my role will be to coalesce others who are experts in this area and brainstorm ideas,” he said.
If he determines that the Wapato Jail is not viable as a shelter, Schnitzer said it could also be repurposed or demolished and replaced by warehouses.
It’s still early in the process of determining the future of the property, but Schnitzer hopes that people will show up to the table with an open mind.
“Because the alternative — doing nothing — is seeing more tents sprout up and more homeless people,” Schnitzer said. “That’s not something I think is right for this community.”
To listen to the full conversation with Jordan Schnitzer, click "play" on the audio player at the top of the page.