A Vision, Tenacity and a Credit Union Member Business Loan Created 100 Jobs

DA Hilderbrand’s friends must have wondered just what it was he was thinking when he purchased a building so dilapidated the City of Portland was about to demolish it.  

“First, we had to clean it out,” Hilderbrand muses. This was no weekend job. Crews hauled away 120,000 cubic feet of junk and saved 29 feral cats. It took more than a year.

What the city saw when it all started was a hazardous heap of trash. What Hilderbrand saw was a building with architectural history and a promising future – involving jobs.    He saw the opportunity to bring “Pearl District quality” to Northeast Portland, at much lower business rental rates.

Phase 1 of what is now the Gotham Building opened in 2002 and quickly filled up with successful businesses.

Life was good. 

But what was located next door was not.  The abandoned “Historic Yellow Building” had become such a mess; the Fire Department warned Hilderbrand it might not be able to save the Gotham Building if the property next door caught fire.

Hilderbrand had another vision: buy the property, clean it up and expand the Gotham. Recruit more businesses and let them create more jobs.

The trouble was that in 2007, when Hilderbrand went searching or a loan, banks would not write the loan he needed, but Unitus Community Credit Union would.

“Unitus took a lot more interest in the community aspect of what I was doing instead of just going by the numbers,” Hilderbrand recalls. “Other banks never even asked why I wanted to do this.” 

He credits the late Barbara Leonard, Unitus’ former Board Chairman, for being a champion of the project and its financing. “She liked the idea of bringing more jobs back to that area. That’s what they were all about,” he said.

Today the Gotham is a monument to small business success.  It houses design firms landing national contracts, computer software businesses, accounting businesses, a brand new wellness clinic and the popular Gotham Tavern restaurant.  The 100 people who own and work for the businesses located there can ride the MAX almost to their office doorways and all the services they need are steps away.   Hilderbrand reports no vacancies at this time.

“It’s a good feeling to walk through and see it so busy. It’s more than just the financial success, it’s just great to see the work they are doing,” he said.

Hilderbrand has written to Oregon Senator Ron Wyden asking for a “yes” vote on S. 2231, which would raise the lending cap imposed on credit unions trying to make more business loans.  He calls the legislation a “good deal for communities and I hope Congress sees fit to give us something we need.”

Hilderbrand is considering saving another industrial warehouse left for dead, in hopes of creating more space for small businesses.  He plans to ask his credit union for another Member Business Loan.

He reports his advisor at Unitus still visits, often brining colleagues to see the example the Gotham project has set. 

“It speaks to more than just a financial commitment.  They really are interested in what we are doing,” Hilderbrand says of his credit union. “Those are the kinds of people I want to do business with.”

Editors’ note: The Northwest Credit Union Association continues to work towards passage of S. 2231 and H.R. 1418.  Sen. Harry Reid remains committed to a Senate vote before the end of the year.

Questions? Contact a member of the Association’s Legislative Affairs team:

Jennifer Wagner, Vice President of Legislative Advocacy
Mark Minickiello, Vice President of Legislative Affairs
Pam Leavitt, Policy Advisor

Posted in CUNA.