The Alberta Abbey is a 23K sqft former church in NE Portland, OR that has functioned as a defacto arts center since 2012. Our involvement began in mid-2017 when the prospective buyer at the time brought us in to conduct due diligence on the property transaction and develop a strategic plan with the nonprofit master tenant. In mid-2018, we agreed to a one-year contract to oversee a range of capital and operational improvements, serve as the nonprofit’s interim Executive Director, and oversee the hiring/transition process for permanent leadership. We also led negotiations on a new long-term lease structure, including a fixed-price purchase option and $725K in funding from the landlord (covering building improvements, corporate donations to the nonprofit, and GoS fees).
The Abbey offers below-market workspace and event rental space to artists and arts organizations. The building contains 10 commercial spaces, a 400-seat auditorium, and a 2500 sq. ft. ballroom. GoS developed a plan so that the nonprofit will break even based on earned income alone, while pricing its leasable and events spaces approximately 40% lower than market rates. To fund this plan, we negotiated a debt-free deal with the landlord that leverages affordable housing finance structures to provide upfront cash to the nonprofit tenant while creating a well-performing asset for the building owner.
Realizing our plan required improvements to the building’s physical integrity, traffic flow, and range of amenities. We tackled countless capital improvements, from reconditioning a boiler system dating back to the 40s and installing the building’s first air conditioning system to completely redoing the roof and its water shedding system. To boost event rentals, we upgraded electrical systems throughout the building and added audio/lighting infrastructure that can accommodate everything from intimate concerts to touring productions. Most importantly, we gave the building a new heart by transforming the 800 sq. ft. former overflow room into a cafe/bar. All of the furniture in the room is moveable—including the custom-designed/fabricated bar, coffee, and handwashing carts.
To drive foot traffic and make the building more attractive to its target market, we collaborated with a neighboring coffee shop, The Arrow PDX, to launch The Abbey Coffee Project. Its mission is to highlight the art of coffee roasting while providing a community gathering space for tenants, local artists, and neighbors. GoS also spearheads programming for the Abbey including movie nights, coffee conversations on the theme of artist well-being, and the creation of a community curation committee. These programs will help ensure that the Abbey stays responsive to community desires long-term. We also help manage the process of legitimizing the building’s existing use through a combination of local historic landmark designation and a change of use to retail sales/service.