The importance of cultivating African American culture and prosperity and replanting roots in the historic heart of Portland’s black community was the theme of Saturday’s public grand opening celebration for the Alberta Commons project, “Dream Street” located at 5015 N.E. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.
Especially honored were the project’s three newest person-of-color-owned businesses: Cason’s Fine Meats, Champions Barbershop, and greenHAUS Gallery + Boutique. The retailers have relocated to the new shopping plaza with the understanding they are lifting up other members of their communities and inspiring them to recognize and pursue their dreams.
The day included a festive and lively community market, abuzz with food, art, crafts, and live music from the local community. Cole Reed, co-owner of greenHAUS, welcomed the attendees, calling the new super block of businesses, the new “Dream Street District,” a place where equity, reconciliation and commerce can collide.
“Together we build a strong network of small business owners that self-define our district, our identity, and our path forward,” Reed said. “We are hatching a much broader and inclusive neighborhood plan. We are our ancestors’ wildest dreams come true, and we want this area to be a place where all people can be inspired to realize their dreams, too.”
Special guest speakers included supporters of the project: Jamal Fox, deputy chief-of-staff for Mayor Ted Wheeler; Kimberly Branam, executive director of Prosper Portland; and Phillip Brown, executive vice President of Majestic Realty.
Theotis “Uncle Theo” Cason, and Jamaal and Christina Lane, were among the black business owners finding that a shared purpose is what brought them to open shop at Alberta Commons.
The historic black neighborhood along Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard was created largely by redlining real estate policies in the early 20th century, negatively impacted by urban planning in the 1950s and ‘60s, and gentrified by builders and new renters and home buyers in the 2000s.
The once black-majority neighborhood is now only 14 percent African American. In 2013 efforts to redevelop the property sparked outrage among community members who felt it was another attempt to displace the black community. As a result, representatives from the city’s economic development agency, Prosper Portland, along with developer Majestic Realty, re-evaluated the project.
A Community Benefits Agreement led to a minority contractor hired to build the plaza and included a comprehensive local hiring program and the implementation of an affordable commercial tenanting program to ensure commercial space was available for local businesses owned by people of color.