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Inspiring a neighborhood

August 24, 2012

With PDC funding and support, a foresighted organization creates the June Key Delta Community Center, a small but ambitious project that serves and inspires the community

Open House
Mayor Sam Adams and Rev. Alcena Boozer join members of the Portland Alumnae Chapter of the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority at the Open House

The June Key Delta Community Center is dedicated to the energy and foresight of Portland educator June Key, a long-time member of the Portland Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc.  She encouraged the other predominantly African-American women in the sorority to purchase an old Arco gas station property in North Portland in 1992 for $2,000, with a vision of creating a community center for the neighborhood.  By 2010 the sorority had raised the funds to begin a major renovation of the property.

PDC provided the bulk of the funding for the $900,000 project, in the form of a $135,000 Commercial Property Redevelopment loan and $319,000 in Storefront Improvement and Community Livability grants, augmenting the sorority’s own investment in the construction costs to renovate and expand the existing building into a community center with a meeting hall, display space, kitchen and accessible rest rooms.  Slowly the project took shape, and a property that once provided a very different service to residents has become an integral neighborhood gathering place, with an urban garden that offers the community the added benefit of both learning and teaching about food production and general gardening.

The grand opening on August 10, 2011 drew Delta Sigma Theta sorority members, the Piedmont neighborhood community, elected officials and sustainability professionals to celebrate the re-imagined building. 

The June Key Center is located in the Humboldt neighborhood, directly across the street from Peninsula Park and two blocks north of Portland Community College’s Cascade Campus.  The project renovated a standard 1960s-style concrete and metal building with asphalt pavement and serves as a demonstration project highlighting how a small, nonprofit organization used sustainable building practices to create a "living building."  The construction to date has met the requirements for the Living Building Challenge, although fundraising is still under way to include elements such as solar arrays to complete the requirements.

Building exterior
June Key Delta Community Center

The construction was mostly performed by a local minority-owned general contractor and augmented by significant contributions of labor from local trade unions and nonprofits that provide pre-apprenticeship training in the construction trades.

The June Key Delta Community Center is currently the first grassroots and African-American-owned commercial building in the United States to pursue the Living Building Challenge, and has the potential to be the first commercial Living Building in Oregon. The project demonstrates how a wide range of diverse stakeholders can work together to develop and achieve a greener future for communities most impacted by environmental and health disparities.

The June Key Delta Community Center was a small but ambitious project, spearheaded by local people of color who are not only participating in the green building movement, but pushing it to the limits with a Living Building Challenge. It serves as an example and inspiration to the community to embrace sustainability, the power of commitment and partnership.