Multnomah County looks to sell vacant Wapato Jail

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.

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