Tabor Commons project takes shape

We’ve followed this project from its days as a drive-through meth shop across from a school. See how they’re coming along …

On a clear fall day, project leader Paul Leistner and volunteer Abigail Cermak remove weeds and plant flowers to enhance the rear area of Tabor Commons.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
Drivers on SE Division Street see clear signs that the one-time illicit drug store, Drive-thru Wake-Up Deli, at 5633 SE Division Street, is indeed being transformed into a long-hoped-for community center called Tabor Commons.

Click on these story titles to read how this project has progressed:

Landscape architect Eric Shriner says he’s volunteering his services at Tabor Commons to help improve his community.

One of those who championed the project all along is Paul Leistner, who is with the Mt. Tabor Neighborhood Association and also Southeast Uplift. He showed us the improvements going into place when we visited not long ago.

“This is a community-owned project,” Leistner said, as he recounted its history. “People in the community have been talking about it for 15 years, ever since Atkinson Elementary School’s Principal hoped someday to transform a former gas station across the street from the school into a family-friendly coffeehouse.”

After it closed as a gas station, it became a drive-through coffee shop and deli. The former ‘deli’ owner was arrested in 2003 for distributing pseudoephedrine for meth labs, Leistner continued. “The Federal Government seized the property. The school, neighborhood, and coalition were granted ownership by the federal government, in 2006.”

Glenn Izer helps out by putting in concrete forms to form the patio in the rear of the building.

It’s now called the Tabor Commons, and the building will soon host another, more community-friendly coffee house called Café au Play.

Thanks to a “Vision Into Action” grant from the City of Portland, and other grants, the neighborhood has been able to install a new garage door that will open to the rear patio, fix the heating and air-conditioning systems, seal-coat the roof with donated elastomeric material, insulate the walls and ceiling, and install sheetrock.

“And with grants from Portland Bureau of Environmental Services, we’re able to do landscaping,” Leistner pointed out. “We pulled up all the pavement, and we’re doing stormwater treatment on-site. In phase 2, we’ll treat stormwater runoff into the street.”

Landscape architect Eric Shriner was checking on the project when we visited. He said three things influenced him to donate his services to the project: He lives just up the street on SE 57th Avenue, his kids go to school at Atkinson Elementary, and it’s a community-based project.

While her partner, John Early of SitePainters, works on scaffolding below her, with Lee Littlewood of Lee’s Better Letters, Laura Bender paints graphics on the Tabor Commons sign. Paul Leistner photo

“It’s exciting to be part of this story,” Shriner said. “We’re reclaiming what was once a problem for the community – it’s a 180° turnaround – and we’re turning it into a community resource.

The building now features a brand-new patio and deck, with stone-lined walls and sustainable plants. “When you drive by now, you’ll see that our sign has been painted. This project has moved along, thanks to one wonderful donation after another!”

© 2009 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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