Bing Sheldon, CCC founding board member, named Portland First Citizen

Central City Concern, April 25, 2014

Today, Bing Sheldon received one of Portland’s highest honors – Portland First Citizen, hosted by the Portland Metro Area Realtors Association. Bing was a founding board member of Central City Concern and served our agency from 1978 to 2013 – an unheard of 35 years on a nonprofit organization board. Last year, Multnomah County declared June 13th as Bing Sheldon and Dean Gisvold Day in honor of their service to CCC and the community at large. At today’s luncheon, Bing was heralded for his contributions to Portland’s Downtown Plan of 1972, to Central City Concern, to the Portland Art Museum and many other organizations in Portland.

Central City Concern’s Executive Director Ed Blackburn introduced the video at the luncheon with these remarks:

When we look up at the stars at night, we are inspired by their shining light. But what we see is not what is, but what was – light generated thousands of years ago. Our celebrated livable Portland, the Portland that we see and experience today, is the result of the vision, creativity and dedicated effort of past generations of great citizens. Our great citizens of today will in turn bequeath a legacy to those that follow. Bing Sheldon is an exemplar of the great citizen.

When Bing and Carolyn first arrived here in the 1960’s, most people saw a downtown in decline. In Old Town/Chinatown in particular, most saw a decrepit skid row haunted by people who were condemned to a short life of hopelessness and despair. Not Bing.  He saw a downtown that could be revived, that had the potential to become an even better, more complete City – a great place to live and work. Indeed, a City that would serve as a national model for livability.

Bing saw the beautiful character of historic buildings that could be rehabilitated with their architectural beauty preserved. He also founded and led SERA Architects not only as a leader in preservation, but as an innovator of a new architecture, encompassing the integration of community building, modern structural design, and green sustainability. In this, he and his colleagues at SERA could see the future in the present.

But for Bing, this revival could not live up to its promise if it left out those most in need. Bing does not abide hopelessness, especially when it comes to people. He believed that when supported with housing and effective services that most of the formerly hopeless would take up the opportunity to heal and strive to attain a higher potential in life.

I have known Bing Sheldon since 1992 as the vice Chair of the Board of Central City Concern. He co-founded CCC, along with Sally McCracken and a number of other civic leaders, in 1978. During his tenure he made sure that we understood that the center of our efforts were the people and the larger community that we served. He helped mentor several Executive Directors, including myself, through decades of challenges, innovations and growth in the pursuit of our mission. He also provided invaluable consulting in the development, and acquisition of real estate projects.

Over the year SERA also provided architectural services for several major historic renovations and new construction projects for CCC.  Sometimes as architect, and always as advisor and board member, Bing helped CCC renovate 10 older hotels in the downtown and Old Town neighborhoods into viable affordable housing buildings. Specifically, SERA Architects served as architect on the Alder Hotel just south of Burnside, downtown. The Alder is on the National Historic Registry. In 2006, as Central City Concern wrestled with the future of the Estate Hotel on NW 3rd and Couch, it was Bing’s idea that we could add two floors and still maintain its historic architectural integrity.

His genius was also behind two new construction projects – the Richard Harris Building on 8 NW 8th Avenue in 2005 and the swift completion of our Old Town Recovery Center on NW Broadway and West Burnside in 2012. The Harris Building’s design garnered a number of awards – the most prestigious was the national Donald Terner Prize for Innovation & Leadership in Affordable Housing.

Completion of our Old Town Recovery Center conquered huge odds in the speed with which it was designed, but it also gained a national award from Contract Design in the Healthcare Environment Award category.

And even when not in an official architect role, Bing’s wisdom and vision on buildings has helped CCC through many a project including our work on an old hotel near the Rose Quarter that we bought in 2005 just as the housing industry was crashing. The project ended up taking 20 bank transactions and more than 6,000 pages of paperwork and Bing hung in there with us every step of the way until we opened the completed building – renamed Madrona Studios – in 2010.

Recently, as an Emeritus Board member, Bing has put his energy into helping CCC’s Art Task Force Committee acquire original works of art to grace the halls of our Old Town Recovery Center. These buildings and the programs in them have visited by delegations from all over the U.S. and the world, including Indonesia, the Netherlands, France, England, Canada and China. Today, Central City Concern has emerged as a national model providing healthcare, addictions and mental  health treatment, and employment services to thousands in need,  and housing for about 2,000 formerly homeless people every night.

When Bing left our board last June, we aptly named our planned giving opportunities the Bing and Carolyn Sheldon Legacy Society.