Work begins on ‘Rosewood Initiative” coffeehouse

Look here, and you’ll see what volunteers are doing to help improve this part of their neighborhood – an effort that will hopefully unite neighbors with police, to quell unrest in this area of outer East Portland …

“Rosewood”, SE 162nd Avenue – north and south from the MAX light rail line – has been an area troubled by crime and livability issues.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
About the only news reports one sees or hears about the northern section of the Centennial Community Association neighborhood – from the MAX light rail line south past SE Stark Street along SE 162nd Avenue – is bad news.

But, at the shopping plaza commonly known by its anchor tenant “Su Casa Imports”, we’ve uncovered a “good news” story about this part of outer East Portland called “Rosewood”.

Within a few months this storefront will be a meeting place for Rosewood neighbors.

When it’s completed, The Rosewood Café will look like this artist’s conception drawing and be a resource for neighbors. Rosewood Initiative illustration

In late 2009, Portland Police Bureau’s then East Precinct sergeant (now lieutenant) John Scruggs began working with Crime Prevention Coordinators – who worked with neighbors, apartment building and store owners, and many others – to begin a “Rosewood Initiative”.

The idea was to rally neighbors and business people around public safety issues.

“Churches, neighborhood associations, social service agencies, business owners, and residents in the area are already working to build upon the assets of the community,” Thompson Morrison wrote, in the Rosewood Initiative Blog. More help is needed to address issues of livability, such as cleaning up trash, removing graffiti, adding sidewalks, and improving safety, he added.

AmeriCorps member Jenny Glass takes a moment with Portland Police Lt. John Scruggs, and former AmeriCorps member Mike Vander Veen, at the “groundbreaking” for the Rosewood Café.

Café seen as a positive sign
Looking up at the shell of a retail shop, on SE 162nd Avenue in the Su Casa shopping center, Mike Vander Veen – an AmeriCorps worker who spent two years in the area – was on hand the morning of May 14 to see a project he’d worked on start to pay off.

“Working together with many people, including those from the Centennial Community Association, and the East Portland Action Plan,” Vander Veen recalled, “We all had the idea that a café here in the ‘Rosewood Initiative’ area could help create better community relations, and help reduce crime.”

The project lurched forward, and then stalled, Vander Veen said. “We faced various roadblocks. Now, it looks as if it’s underway. With Sergeant Scruggs having ‘grown up’ to be Lieutenant Scruggs in North Precinct, that made a bit of a leadership shift. So, having a new AmeriCorps member here really helps fill in the transition for this project. I’m very pleased with how this has gone.”

Neighbors, church members, and Parole & Probation clients work shoulder by shoulder to gut this former dry cleaning store, making it ready for constructing the new café.

Jenny Glass, the AmeriCorps member, commented on the project she’d inherited. “This project is an amazing opportunity for the community to have a space in which to gather. I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to continue a project that gets people involved in something positive like this.”

When she joined AmeriCorps, and was assigned to outer East Portland, Glass said she wasn’t aware of this project – and the responsibilities she would assume.

“Opening a nonprofit café was not in my mind,” Glass conceded. “But, it’s exciting working with two police bureaus (Portland and Gresham), Multnomah County, members of the community from all different areas, business owners, apartment managers, and community members.”

Lt. John Scruggs paused from his activity and smiled, as he looked at the work being done on the project. “I’ve been working with initiative since the beginning, November, 2009.”

Although he’s now in stationed in North Precinct, Scruggs said he just had to “come back” to help with the project. “This is awesome. It’s so cool to see police officers, corrections clients, and community members all come together to build this space out into a community café. It’s awesome.”

Overseeing the demolition work is the project’s general contractor, Portland Police Bureau East Precinct Officer Greg Baldwin.

At the time of our visit, Portland Police Bureau East Precinct Officer Greg Baldwin was already covered with dust from head to toe – at 9:30 a.m. – so much that we hardly recognized him.

“They tasked me, because I have construction skills, to assist with building out the café improvements – working on the design committee, coordinating the interior demolition and coordinating subcontractors.”

The community design committee spent many hours creating the actual floor plan for the coffee shop, revealed Baldwin. “Paint schemes, floor and cabinet schemes, lighting schemes – it has been a lot of fun. So, today is our groundbreaking for the project.”

Baldwin observed that the demolition was running ahead of schedule. “We have a lot of help from Parole & Probation, plus community members who have volunteered from churches, from other police officers, and from contractors who live in the community and are donating their time.”

Chuckie Bessette, Steve Tolvstad and Rex Hollingsworth, all of Rex Heating & Air Conditioning, stand by – ready to haul away debris and start installing the heating and cooling system in the Rosewood Café.

One of those contractors, Rex Hollingsworth, was looking over the building and its plans. “We’re volunteering the demolition haul-away from Junk-Away Hauling,” Hollingsworth explained.

“And, our company, Rex Heating & Air Conditioning, will do the HVAC work in the new café,” Hollingsworth added. “We’re doing it for the community; the community here really needs a police substation and a community café – this is going to bring the community together with the police.”

As the morning’s work progressed, Glass confided, “Seeing all this activity, I feel really excited – I’m pumped up about it. I can see what this space is going to mean for the community.  I can’t wait until we have activities here, on this corner, every day.”

The Rosewood Café is expected to open later this year, perhaps in October or November.

© 2011 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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