By Stephen Beaven
Before his death from cancer in September, Portland developer Art DeMuro had been working on plans to preserve and redevelop the Washington High School building at Southwest 14th Avenue and Stark Street.
It was an “iconic” building, he said, and a challenge to develop. But as a historic preservationist and founder of Venerable Properties, DeMuro was committed to make the plans work.
Now, despite his death, the project is moving forward with one significant change.
Craig Kelly, DeMuro’s close friend and president of Venerable Properties, said this week that proposals to create housing as part of the project have been shelved. Residential development at the site would be expensive and require an interior renovation that would destroy the building’s character, according to Kelly.
“You would never know it was a high school from the interior,” he said. “I prefer preservation first, if you can.”
If there are any residential units at the school, Kelly estimated there would be fewer than five.
Now, instead of housing, he is considering a variety of commercial uses that could include a restaurant or market on the first floor with office space above for small creative companies such as software developers or website builders.
“I think a lot of the tenants are going to live in the neighborhood,” he said.
Although the project remains in the early stages, there has been recent progress.
Last month, the Portland Historic Landmarks Commission designated the building as a landmark. That designation provides incentives for historic preservation and limits on demolition.
On April 8, Kelly expects the landmarks commission to consider proposed changes to the building’s exterior. After that, he thinks he’ll have a clearer idea of how to proceed and, perhaps, how much the project will cost.
The redevelopment of the building, which opened in 1924, has been a long-standing goal for the Buckman neighborhood. Coupled with a community center the city has proposed for an adjacent property, the redevelopment of the high school would be a boon for the preservation-minded neighborhood.
Susan Lindsay, of the Buckman Community Association, said this week that residential development has always been a focal point in discussions about the future of the school.
“We would hope that there will be a residential component in the building,” she said, adding that she has confidence that Kelly can complete the project.
“I feel he wants to complete this and this will get done,” she said.
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