Today they call her the Queen of Alberta. But in 1992, when interior and landscape designer Roslyn Hill went to a tax-lien sale and bought a derelict building on long-neglected Northeast Alberta Street in Portland, Oregon, most of her friends called her crazy. Borrowing most of the $26,000 purchase price, she spent a year rehabbing the space with her own sweat and money—even selling her house to help pay the costs. When Hill couldn't find a tenant, she decided to open a coffeehouse—with a gallery inside for works by artists of color. The café was an instant hit. So Hill cobbled together more money to buy the properties on either side, razing what was there in order to build anew, with commercial units on the ground floor, residential lofts above, extensive landscaping, and all-night outdoor lighting. This time she had no trouble finding commercial tenants who would live by her rules: they could not lock their doors during business hours, which had to be posted, and they had to buy glass-breakage insurance. "If the window breaks, the window is replaced the same day," she says. That was just the start. Over the next several years, Hill, 61, bought more property along the 30-block-long section of Northeast Alberta Street, rehabbing or rebuilding, mixing commercial space with residential and, in the process, sparking a renaissance that turned the virtually treeless asphalt jungle into a trendy area boasting what the Portland Oregonian calls a "racially diverse, edgy aesthetic that stands out even in a city known for its unique neighborhood commerce districts."
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