Groundbreaking Artists Space Milepost 5 Changes Hands

"Portland’s groundbreaking live/work space for artists, Milepost 5, has provided affordable space for hundreds of artists over the years. Its offbeat history offers a mix of lessons about mashing up art and commerce. The company that brought it to life is about to sell the complex to a company that specializes in redeveloping affordable housing.

As Kimberly Bookman was driving from South Carolina to Portland four years ago to become a full-time artist, she stumbled into a huge opportunity.

“I was looking on Craigslist for spaces or rooms, and I came across Milepost 5,” Bookman said. “I just sent them an email saying that I would be there in a few days and I would come to the office, and I was interested in the room.”

Bookman submitted a portfolio and got approved for what she still calls the best deal in town — studio apartments that start at $375 a month. Bookman made use of the on-site wood shop and galleries to grow from palm-sized sculptures to lavish female forms frocked with dried flowers, paint, and pageantry.

She had two solo shows at Milepost 5’s Denizen Gallery last year, including “Death By Glitter,” which Bookman calls “the largest pieces that I’ve ever done. And it was great.”

Will Elder had a formative two years at Milepost 5, on his way to becoming an artist and curator. Barely two years out of Cleveland High School he moved there in 2010, elated with his 200-square foot apartment, multi-generational neighbors and the anything-goes atmosphere.

“Sometimes,” Elder said, it felt, “a little chaotic. And I think that had to do with the number of parties happening there, which was fun at the time, but could be exhausting.”

He remembers the signing of his lease as being an incredibly quick and easy process.

“And I think it was because they were so eager to get people in there, to start renting,” he said.

It was the height of the recession, and Elder surmises the project was hemorrhaging money.

Brad Malsin, the founder of Beam Development, did most of the heavy lifting to get Milepost 5 off the ground. He’s open about the problems in the early stages of the project.

“It certainly didn’t turn out like we originally envisioned it.”

Brad Malsin is the founder of Beam Development — better known for a different kind of project, renovating historic warehouses into coveted upscale workspaces. Beam did the big lifting on Milepost 5, partnering with an affordable housing trust. The project’s advocate was then-Mayor Sam Adams, who was trying to make space for artists in a city that, even in 2006, had started getting too expensive for the creative class. The city’s financial contribution was relatively small — a loan in the lower six figures from Portland Development Commission.

Beam and its partner bought and renovated the old German Baptist retirement home on Northeast 82nd Avenue. Its 54 condos and 127 studio apartments are affordable housing. Everyone’s accommodated, whether or not they’re selling much art. Beam saved money by designing communal kitchen and bathroom areas on each floor. The Milepost gallery, Denizen, its coffeehouse, community garden and the old chapel used for meetings and performances provided additional draws. It’s not fancy, but the idea was to create a community where artists wouldn’t have to sweat the rent so much and find a measure of economic stability."

April Baer, OPB

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