Since 1998, the city of Portland has been transforming the Lents neighborhood. Once known as “felony flats,” the Southeast neighborhood is now one of the most culturally diverse areas in the city. Run down buildings have been bulldozed and new businesses are popping up. In the past decade, the Portland Development Commission has acquired 40 percent of the commercial property around the Lents Town Center. That’s about a dozen buildings and properties. John Jackley is the director of communications and social equity with the Portland Development Commission. He says those acquisitions have been strategic in order to facilitate development, jobs and economic prosperity. “We think it’s the next big thing, and we’re pulling out all the stops to make it happen.” says Jackley.
Since this project began, the city has started a farmers market, improved parks, brought MAX to the neighborhood, and added sidewalks and bike lanes. Maybe most importantly it has brought in businesses. But there are still a few vacant lots and empty storefronts. A recent survey from Lents.biz says residents want businesses within walking distance, including a natural foods grocery store, a florist, restaurants, dry cleaning, bottle shop, urban farm supplies, bakery and bicycle sales and service. The PDC’s approach to providing those services isn’t to demand they be opened or built. Instead, the PDC takes suggestions and requests for interest. The PDC recently hosted a walking tour of three vacant lots near Lents Town Center. A handful of people attended the tour, and asked a lot of questions about the properties, mostly concerning parking and utilities. David Emami is a developer who already owns an apartment and retail building on 93rd and Woodstock, and a strip mall on 82nd and Foster. He thinks the neighborhood is hot and sees the potential for more development. He also thinks Lents has outgrown it’s negative reputation. Emami says “We get more vandalism in Lake Oswego then here. Honestly.”