Multnomah County looks to sell vacant Wapato Jail

The Wapato Jail remains empty, June 3, 2014 (KOIN 6 News)
The Wapato Jail remains empty, June 3, 2014 (KOIN 6 News)

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN 6) — Multnomah County officials are renewing an aggressive effort to sell a jail in North Portland’s Rivergate area that has sat vacant since it was built.

Built at a cost of $58 million, the Wapato Jail has never housed a single inmate since it was completed in 2004, according to city commissioners. Voters approved the bonds to pay for the jail, but no money was ever secured to run the 525-bed facility.

The Wapato Jail remains empty, June 3, 2014 (KOIN 6 News)
The Wapato Jail remains empty, June 3, 2014 (KOIN 6 News)

County officials said the falling crime rate made the jail unnecessary.

“We need to either sell it [or] lease it and get it on the tax rolls, so our vulnerable populations will be able to use those resources,” said Multnomah County Commissioner Loretta Smith.

According to county officials, $300,000 a year is spent on just maintaining the Wapato Jail. The money covers utilities, landscaping and preventing the pipes from freezing in the winter.

Now, the county has issued a request for information to hear ideas about what to do with the vacant prison.

“I actually had the somewhat whimsical title of Wapato Facilities Commander although I outnumbered the inmate population – one to nothing,” said former Multnomah County Sheriff’s Sgt. Bruce McCain.

McCain called Wapato Jail the county’s biggest albatross and said he wonders if the massive facility – built as a jail – can effectively be used for anything else.

“I’m not sure anybody would want to buy it and own it,” said McCain. “The one use – the possible use that I’ve actually promoted – is a one-stop multiple service homeless shelter.”

However, Union Gospel Mission’s Executive Director Bill Russell said he doesn’t think that idea is feasible.

“I don’t think it’s feasible. It’s too far away from the city. It’s way up in an industrial area. There’s no public transportation. There’s no way to access, and the cost is pretty high,” said Russell.

County officials said the property is assessed at about $40 million.

  • Lisa

    Seriously, falling crime rate??? Typical Response!!!! I wonder when the next release from one of the prisons / jails in Oregon will happen because they have no room? Over crowding ha ha ha.. Maybe they can actually spend some of the money they use to build the city and state buildings that they don’t need … to house criminals and make people accountable for their actions.. Oh I forgot that’s most likely against their civil rights!!! They are always trying to find a place for the homeless and all the drug addicts in the streets… they get so mad at business owners for not tolerating them… let them live there… and let them come and go as they please… Just Volunteer staff it with all the people up in arms because not enough is being done for the addicts and criminals … It would be a win-win…

  • Shanelle Cooper

    The prison should be used for housing and care for women and children of domestic abuse. Has all the amenities and the ability to keep unwanted people out. Even has room for school of tutors.

  • Tim

    Why can’t all the people in lock down in the houses, like the person who broke out of the house in a community a week ago, be housed in wapato jail then in neiberhood houses, like the guy who broke out of a house and beat up a child and his mom.

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