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Fritz comes through with two new east Portland parks for you

After decades of poor stewardship in Mid-county since annexation, the city announced it is building two parks in underserved east Portland last month

NATHAN GILLES
THE MID-COUNTY MEMO

City Commissioner Amanda Fritz announced Mid-county is getting two new parks last month, one in Gateway and one in Argay Terrace.
Beech Park, 16-acres of former farmland in the Argay Terrace neighborhood of Parkrose next to Shave Elementary school is about to be developed fully by 2017.
Mid-county Memo photos/Tim Curran
This is the city's plan for building Beech Park in Argay Terrace.
COURTESY PORTLAND PARKS & RECREATION
This is the city's plan for building Gateway Park in Mid-county between Northeast 104th and 106th avenues on Halsey Street.
COURTESY PORTLAND PARKS & RECREATION
It's official, Portland City Commissioner and Portland Parks & Recreation head Amanda Fritz has announced she wants to build two new parks in Mid-county by 2017: the first at the Beech Park property site in the Argay Terrace neighborhood of Parkrose, the second at the Gateway Urban Plaza property near the Gateway Transit Center.

Fritz's decision was announced Thursday, Jan. 30, at the future site of the Gateway Urban Plaza at Northeast Halsey Street between 104th and 106th avenues. Fritz made the announcement in a covered tent in front of a small crowd of about 50 politicians, journalists, bureaucrats and community members. She told the crowd her experience as a community advocate for parks led her to that day's announcement.

“In my neighborhood in Southwest [Portland], it took 15 years to get a park done,” said Fritz. “And at that time, the East Portland Parks Coalition wrote a letter of support to the state to say they supported my application in Southwest Portland, and I promised then I would return the favor, and that's why we are here today.”

The East Portland Parks Coalition consists of representatives from east Portland neighborhood associations, including the Parkrose, Centennial, and Pleasant Valley associations. The volunteer-run group represents east Portland's parks and future parks interests. They recommended Fritz fund Parklane in outer Southeast Portland in Centennial on the border with Gresham.

At the Jan. 30 announcement, Fritz thanked long-time friend and East Portland Parks Coalition chair Alesia Reese for her efforts in advocating for east Portland parks.

Despite going contrary to Reese's committee's recommendation to first fund Parklane as reported first in January's Memo (“New east Portland park coming… soon”, January 2014), Fritz chose the more underserved areas of Mid-county. “I'm happy,” Reese said when asked about Fritz's choice. “You never know what the future holds.”

Currently, the Gateway Urban Plaza property is four empty acres covered in grass and weeds. Formerly occupied by J.J. North's Restaurant, a dry cleaner, and a bowling alley that evolved into a bingo hall, PP&R has long touted the site as a potential living room for the Gateway neighborhood. The plans on the city's drawing board include a fitness trail and spaces for events from concerts and outdoor movies to farmers' markets, and retail and residential development.

The project is expected to serve about 1,371 households, according to Parks Bureau data. The project will provide access not only to Gateway residents but also to residents in the Hazelwood, Mill Park and Woodland Park neighborhoods.

The 16-acre, figure-eight shaped Beech Park property was purchased from the Garre family by Multnomah County in 1965. The smaller parcel sold for $31,808 and the larger $39,905, according to county records. Garre Farms cultivated the land annually until about seven years ago and still own the adjacent farm. The property is just off Northeast Fremont Street between 126th and 132nd avenues and Beech Street next to Shaver Elementary School in the Parkrose School District.

The proposed park will include play and picnic areas, a sports field and basketball court, pedestrian and bike paths and space for community gardens. The park expects to serve 1,426 households, according to the Parks Bureau.

The last park opened in Mid-county was Senn's Dairy Park, a single-acre plot at Northeast Prescott Street. The park opened in 2009.

Fritz began expressing her interest in a park project shortly after Portland Mayor Charlie Hales assigned her the bureau in June 2013.

In October, Fritz told the Oregonian she thought the city had enough funds-about $8 million-to develop “one significant park.” Her announcement in January that she planned to develop two sites came as a surprise.

As the Memo reported in January, Tim Crail, policy advisor to Commissioner Fritz, confirmed the Oregonian's earlier reporting that Fritz was looking at developing one project.

That Fritz was considering only one project was further confirmed by members of both the Argay Neighborhood Association and the East Portland Parks Coalition. But as Fritz told the crowd, the city has more money than was previously thought.

The majority of the funds for the two new parks will come from what are called system development charges, or SDCs. SDCs are, in effect, a tax on city construction. Fritz also oversees the Bureau of Development Services, which collects the SDCs. She told the gathered crowd building has been booming lately.

“When people say there is a lot of new construction happening, there is a lot of new construction happening. And we can tell them it's helping to fund these parks” said Fritz.

Fritz hopes to fund the $8 million Beech Park project from SDCs, not from the city's general fund. In January, the Memo reported the Parks Bureau is also looking for corporate sponsors that might want to pitch in money for the effort. The majority of the funding for the $4.7 million Gateway project also will come from SDCs, not the general fund. However, Gateway is expected to get an additional $1 million from the Portland Development Commission.

The Beech Park and Gateway Urban Plaza projects are two of four Mid-Multnomah County sites the Parks Bureau has had on its drawing board for years. The other sites include the Parklane property and the Clatsop Butte property in Pleasant Valley. As many have pointed out, getting these projects to completion has been difficult.

In 2001, in an attempt to address what it saw as a growing inequality in access to parks, Portland City Council approved the “Parks 2020 Vision,” a comprehensive plan aimed at making Portland's parks and nature areas easily accessible, by a half-mile or less walk, for all Portlanders. However, as the Oregonian and other media outlets have pointed out, east Portland consistently has fallen behind greater Portland in the number of parks per resident.

In 2011, according to Parks Bureau numbers, 79 percent of city residents met the Parks 2020 Vision standard. East Portland tells a different story. Only about 63 percent of east Portlanders met the standard, according to the bureau, compared to 98 percent of residents in the central city and 88 percent of residents in Northwest Portland neighborhoods. At the Jan. 30 announcement, Fritz recognized this historical inequity.

“In east Portland, two out of every five households do not have easy access to a city park. That is in stark contrast to the rest of Portland, where four out of every five households live within a half-mile of a park or natural area,” said Fritz. “This is a significant step in addressing historic inequities in parks in east Portland.”

When completed, Beech Park is expected to serve around 965 households that currently do not already meet the city's half-mile standard, according to Parks Bureau numbers. Roughly, 49 percent of these new households served are ethnic minorities, and 23 percent are below the poverty level, according to the same data.

When completed, Gateway Urban Plaza expects to serve more than 800 households that did not previously meet the city standard. According to Parks Bureau data, 36 percent of these households are ethnic minorities, and 28 percent are below the poverty level.

Fritz told the crowd she hopes to have both parks in the works before her term ends in 2016.

Other local politicians who addressed the crowd at the announcement included former Parks Bureau head, Commissioner Nick Fish. Commissioner Steve Novick was also present, as was Representative for District 47, Jessica Vega Pederson, and Mayor Charlie Hales.

“For all of us who love parks, this is a good day,” Hales told the crowd.





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