Left: Aerial view of Alberta Street from NE 18th Avenue during the Alberta Street Fair, which is the longest street fair in Portland and the largest annual event in the community, drawing over 25,000 attendees (c) Naim Hasan Photography Right: One of the many colorful murals in the district. (c) Notice Pictures
“Alberta Main Street serves as a model for neighborhoods in cities that are struggling to retain their character in the face of new development, gentrification, and displacement” said National Main Street Center CEO and President Patrice Frey. “Alberta has been able to grow its local economy without sacrificing the heritage and historic character that make this arts district unique.”
Known as a vibrant working-class and commercial district in the 1950s, Alberta Main Street suffered from decades of disinvestment and exclusionary lending practices. In the 1980s, gang activity reached unprecedented levels, and Alberta had become, as one television reporter stated, “the most killing street in Portland.” Community development efforts began in the 1990s, and Alberta Main Street formed in 2010 to continue the momentum while addressing the threat of losing the diversity and creative culture of the community. Over the past nine years, Alberta Main Street has flourished while remaining committed to inclusion and shared prosperity. Forty-four new businesses have started since 2010 and job opportunities have nearly doubled—from 696 in 2010 to 1,375 in 2018.
“Alberta Main Street is at the forefront of helping small businesses and entrepreneurs succeed, balancing historic preservation with new infill, and creating an inviting and welcoming district for all,” said Sheri Stuart, state coordinator of Oregon Main Street. “They are a credit to our state program and an example for Main Streets across the country.”
Alberta Main Street has worked diligently to create an inclusive commercial district by offering programs that encourage small business development and property ownership among residents who have been historically marginalized from economic growth. Alberta hosts free small business seminars and networking events, offers matching grants to businesses and property owners, and provides one-on-one technical assistance. Their programming has paid off. Sixty percent of Alberta businesses are women-owned and 23 percent are minority-owned.
"Alberta Main Street is taking serious steps to provide a more inclusive approach toward success for all members of the community, including those who have been displaced by rising housing costs,” said Elise Scolnick, long-time Alberta Street resident, activist, and Alberta Street Board member. “This means reaching outside of the neighborhood to those who once lived here, and asking them back into the fold. Through dialogue, cultural representation, and prosperity initiatives, which are in planning and implementation phases, Alberta Main Street wants to embrace both the heritage and future of our community."Left: Antoinette Edwards (right) interviews Roslyn Hill (left) for the Alberta Main Street’s Historical Markers Project. The project will result in public art in the form of historical markers that honor and document the history of the African American community on Alberta Street and are inspired by stories collected from African American community members. Credit: Intisar Abioto Right: Alberta Main Street commissioned local artist Ivan McLean (pictured inside trash can) to design, produce, and install 20 garbage/ recycling cans that were made out of discarded street signs. Credit: Jeff Hilber
That future is bright if you look around Main Street today. Alberta is lined with locally-owned businesses, public art, and unique shops and galleries. Residents and visitors are flocking to Main Street. Last year, events, programs, and activities drew 30,000 people to the district, with an estimated economic impact of over $5 million. Between 2015 and 2016, 60 percent of Alberta Street businesses reported an increase in revenue, and 40 percent planned to expand operations.
Alberta Main Street owes much of its success to its determined leader and ambassador for their Main Street— founding Executive Director Sara Wittenberg, who passed away in August 2018.
"I am truly honored to become the Executive Director of Alberta Main Street just a short time before this significant award,” said Ann Griffin, Alberta Main Street Executive Director. “It is a real tribute to my predecessor's hard work, and to the dedication of the neighborhood leaders and volunteers who make this Main Street a success. We work to maintain Alberta as a place where all feel welcome, and where arts-inspired and community conscious projects can grow real roots."