Same building, new location | Local News | Fold | The Weekly Source
On April 4, the Warm Springs police station building crawled to a new location on Wasco Drive, within sight of Highway 26 via a hydraulic Buckingham Power and Coaster Dolly from Wolfe, a massive remote-controlled cart that supported the two-story structure .
The federal government built the commissioner in 1896 to distribute grain, flour, seeds, and tools to tribal members. Just 41 years before the Commissioner was built, Oregon Territory Superintendent of Indian Affairs Joel Palmer negotiated treaties with the Warm Springs and Wasco Tribes who gave up 10 million acres of Indian land and established the reserve. Today, the building takes on new life.
“We don’t know exactly how many years he served as a commissioner handing out supplies,” said Chris Watson, executive director of the Warm Springs Community Action Team. “At some point the use of the building changed. We know that from about the 1950s through the 90s the building was used by the Tribal Natural Resources Department as offices. Today the department of natural resources has over 200 employees, and they have clearly surpassed the commissioner.”
The building has been vacant since 1998, with a few old Commodore 64 computers, IBM Selectric typewriters and a box of expired minute rice – that’s how they deduced the 1998 exit. In 2016, the WSCAT considered repurpose the building, guided by the tribe’s 2014 Strategic Infrastructure Plan which envisioned a small business incubator. The repurposed police station will eventually serve as a local business hub.
WSCAT plans to include a ground floor with commercial spaces including the Painted Pony, a cafe that currently sits next to the Indian Head Casino, a gift shop with local crafts, and two open spaces that people can ask to fill. The second floor is planned to be a coworking space for several different local businesses.
“This space is where small local entrepreneurs don’t have space, or even an office to do business. We will provide them with computers, offices, spaces, a media center, information, everything things they need to run their business,” said Starla Green, General Manager of the Commissary Project.
The coworking space and commercial units are expected to be completed next spring, with more renovations to come. Moving the building within sight of the freeway is intended to attract some of the more than 8,000 cars that cross Freeway 26 each day.
“In the coming years we’re going to put up an outdoor pavilion, food carts, around the outside and a couple of physical food businesses to operate from as well. Then a commercial kitchen years later for people who make smoked salmon and pepper berry jam and different types of value-added foods will have a place where they can do that,” Watson said.
Hosting a batch of food carts won’t be overkill, and WSCAT already hosts a small business accelerator program at the Painted Pony Cafe and the Twisted Teepee food cart. Green started out with WSCAT at the Twisted Tipi as part of a workforce training program.
“I was hired as a food cart manager/trainer, which is the Twisted Tipi, and we started this from scratch as a training program to provide a workspace for one, but also provide professional skills to individuals,” said Green.
Currently, people have to drive 15 minutes south to do much of their shopping, with only 12 retail businesses on the reservation. Watson says about $9 of every $10 spent on retail goes off-reserve, despite the community’s strong entrepreneurial tendencies that include an informal business network.
“We call it the shade tree economy; it’s people who aren’t necessarily allowed but they’re selling to each other, and that’s a huge part of the reservation economy,” Watson said. . “Unfortunately people have to travel to Madras to shop. And we hope with this project to at least start to change that.”
The building plodded along Wasco Street for about five hours before landing in its new home, though its mission could take decades to complete. Despite its age, the building holds up well. The origins of the Commissary are painful for some tribesmen, but when repurposed, they could do a great service to the community.
“It represents some things that people don’t necessarily like, these systems of dependency and oppression, but it’s also historic,” Watson said. “We’re going to take this old building and do a few things with it, which keep the historic nature of it, but make it a net-zero energy building with solar panels, skylights and high ceilings and make it really useful for the entrepreneurs who are going to set up here.”
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