Sale of long-unused Wapato Jail in N. Portland finalized for $5 million

Wapato Jail (KPTV file image)

Multnomah County has finalized the sale of the long-unused Wapato Jail in north Portland for $5 million.

Wapato Jail was built in 2004 after voters approved a $46 million bond measure eight years earlier for its construction. Funding issues prevented the facility from ever operating as a jail.

Wapato Jail is a 155,400-square-foot building on 18.24 acres of industrial land in the Rivergate Industrial Park.

County workers said $109 million has been spent on Wapato Jail, in total, with a cost of $300,000 a year to maintain it.

“No county, state or federal agency ever wanted Wapato. Despite repeated attempts to find another use for the jail, it sat unused except for some film productions. No viable tenant or buyer ever emerged,” according to a statement released by Multnomah County on Thursday.

The county reached an agreement with Kehoe Northwest Properties LLC in November 2017. That deal was reported to be $10.8 million. However, last month the developer came back with a counter-offer.

The Multnomah County Board of Commissioners accepted that offer of $5 million. Last week’s vote was 4-1, with Commissioner Loretta Smith dissenting.

Smith called the approval of the sale “political malpractice.” She had pushed to use Wapato Jail as a homeless shelter.

Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury said there are “many, many reasons” why Wapato could not be used as a homeless shelter. On Thursday, in a release about the finalized sale, the county reported it would have been “cost prohibitive,” as operating the jail as a 525-person shelter would exceed $8 million per year for capital and operating costs combined, plus the cost of support services.

Land use restrictions and other factors were also cited by the county.

Kehoe intends to use the Wapato Jail property as a medical supplies warehouse.

Net proceeds from the $5 million sale were transferred to the county Thursday morning.

Commissioners, the Joint Office of Homeless Services, Department of County Human Services and homeless services providers have formed a workgroup to identify long-term strategies for using the funds.

“The goal is to use the sale of Wapato to increase housing stability in Multnomah County,” according to a county statement.

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