United Way Partners Transform the Sugar Shack into Community Space

Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2015

A neighborhood rallies to buy a derelict strip club, then turns it into community space. It’s not a movie plot - yet. It’s real life, and it’s happening in Portland.

The Cully neighborhood, one of the city’s most diverse and low-income, had to tolerate the conspicuous presence of the Sugar Shack strip club for more than a decade. The club and a handful of other adult businesses anchored the two-acre lot on the corner of NE Killingsworth and NE Cully Blvd., steps from a pediatric health center, school bus stops and hundreds of units of affordable family housing.

The property went on the market in the summer of 2014. A coalition of three United Way funded partners including Hacienda CDC, the Native American Youth & Family Center and Verde, as well as Habitat for Humanity Portland/Metro East, formed the Living Cully Coalition and purchased the lot for $2.3 million in June of 2015. The project received more than $2 million in public and private loans, plus $65,000 donated by over 500 people as part of a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo.

“We’re proud to work with organizations creating real, measurable change within our communities,” said United Way President and CEO Keith Thomajan. “This collaborative spirit is exactly what we’re working to harness at United Way, and we couldn’t ask for more inspiring, effective partners to work with.”

As Portland’s population continues to swell, the Cully neighborhood is becoming more attractive and livable. This transition has already played out in many Portland neighborhoods, ultimately pushing out low-income residents and people of color. Living Cully is working hard to make sure that people currently living in Cully can stay and rise with the neighborhood.

“If we can buy the Sugar Shack Strip Club, then we can make sure redevelopment of the property serves Cully’s needs by creating jobs, supporting local businesses, educating youth and engaging community,” Living Cully wrote on their fundraising page.

Lara Pacheco, a neighborhood advisor to the coalition, lives in Cully and owns a business in the neighborhood. She’s been inspired by the project.

“This neighborhood has been an experiment in resiliency,” Pacheco said. “Now people get a say in the direction they want the neighborhood to go in - and it’s a diverse direction. It’s beautiful. It gives me hope.”

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