Landscape architect Mauricio Villareal unveiled what he called the “preferred concept plan” for the proposed $8.2 million Gateway Park and Urban Plaza at an open house at the Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization March 24. The proposed park is 3.6 acres at Northeast 106th Avenue and Halsey Street.
Standing before slides filled with colorful drawings, Villareal, along with PLACE, the landscape architecture firm contracting with Portland Parks and Recreation to design the park, said the final schematic was a team effort. PLACE employed elements suggested by the public in written and online comments as well as recommendations from the Parks Advisory Committee, a group composed of local volunteers. Those features, partly gleaned from the park’s 2010 Master Plan, were also based on two alternative designs architects presented last February to the public. Design 1 showed a raindrop configuration; Design 2 created a more abstract design based on “cells and strands.”
Design 1 extended along Northeast 106th Avenue. The other design fashioned the open space in a more “free-form” configuration, Villareal said.
“One of the big elements that people were very excited about from the cell diagram was this idea that the plaza extended the notion of an urban boulevard along 106th,” he said. “But everybody else liked the organic quality of the design; they liked the way people were able to move, the way the path around the green compressed and expanded for different activities and different moments and different emotions.”
Another popular feature was the lawn’s irregular shape in Design 2, which allows people to cluster and sit in different zones within that larger shape, providing a more flexible outdoor space. Design 1, which created a uniform, circular lawn, offered no such privacy, Villareal said. “Once you had a perfect circle, all eyes were on you,” he said.
Public comments also favored the idea of bringing evergreen trees into the park, interspersed with rows of picnic areas of different sizes spread throughout the site.
“You might be at one bench by yourself, but you may come with your family and have cousins and aunts and uncles and need tables for 30 people,” he said.
Community members also objected to placing the skate spot next to the nature area and all-inclusive playground. Therefore, planners moved the skate area between the lawn and picnic rows. On the west side of the park, they sketched in the all-inclusive play and nature area. The plaza could host numerous events, such as a food market.
“You have the desire to create this iconic place, this landmark for the neighborhood,” he said. “You have the feeling this place is something that becomes a gathering place, a living room or family room for the Gateway neighborhood.”
Another structure would house the park’s restroom and storage area, as well as a pump room for the water feature.
That water can be turned off, transforming the plaza into a flexible space to hold music concerts on a Saturday night or as a space for families to relax with their children on a Sunday afternoon.
PP&R would like to hear from community members about what programs and celebrations they would prefer to see at the park.
Pointing to the spot on the slide where the Portland Development Commission owns one acre on the corner of Northeast 106th Avenue and Halsey, he suggested a future building there that might house a coffee shop or restaurant close to the plaza.
Along 106th Avenue, there will be a promenade with overhead lights for people to walk, heading north or south. On weekends, food carts might be serve customers along the street adjacent to the park “to provide activity for the space,” he said.
The large open lawn area might attract picnics and Frisbee games, but “it’s not meant to have a fixed sports field quality,” he said. Instead, it will be a flexible area to hold events or watch children play.
The nearby play area would provide all-accessible equipment for children with disabilities, along with nature activities. The play area will be similar to Harper’s Playground, an all-inclusive park in Portland. It will include a synthetic turf safety surface, swings, an accessible tire swing and a slide. Access to that slide will be along a path with a 5 percent incline, so no handrails will be needed. Different types of musical instruments will be installed, such as drums for children or adults to beat on.
The nature area will be composed of a mix of boulders, stones and pieces of branches for children “to create and play with on their own,” Villareal said.
A 3,000-square-foot skate park will be built in the southeast section of the park. Referring to similar skate spots he has designed, Villareal said, “I’m always surprised how nurturing the older kids are with the smaller kids. You always think they are going to start running up and down the spaces and not allow the smaller kids to play. And, invariably, you always see them bringing in the smaller kids and teaching them their way through the skate spot.”
The PLACE architectural team will continue to refine different elements of the design over the next several months. “We truly believe this is an incredible opportunity for the neighborhood to create something iconic,” he said.
During the question and answer period that followed his talk, a man in the audience asked if a budget had been planned to maintain the park.
George Lozovoy, PP&R project manager for the park, replied that throughout the whole design process, PP&R’s operations and maintenance staff, who provide an estimate of maintenance costs, evaluate plans for the park. Lozovoy said he researched the maintenance costs of a similar-sized 3.5-acre park, albeit one without a water feature, in the Pearl District. “So, based on the water feature, it’s probably going to be in the area of $240,000 a year for maintenance,” Lozovoy said of Gateway Park. “When we’re ready to go to construction, we go to Council and we say we’re taking on a new facility and we get general funds to take on the operation and maintenance of the facility.” Julie Hitchman, another audience member who lives in the Hazelwood neighborhood, asked, “Will there be any structures for ages 10 and up to be climbing on?”
Villareal responded, “As for the structures themselves, there will be different levels of challenges for all ages.”
Hitchman responded, “I didn’t hear anything that would cover all ages, besides the skateboards. That’s all I heard for 10 and above.”
Villareal continued to explain that the slides, swings and water feature could be used by all ages, from two to 80 years of age. He added that older youth can get exercise by climbing the steps and the lawn areas “in a more interesting or new way.” Unconvinced, Hitchman said such activities were based on “walking around.”
At the apartment complex she lives in near the park, the youth are destroying the exercise equipment because they have nothing to climb on, Hitchman explained.
Villareal suggested she attend future design sessions when planners develop ideas and offer them insight into elements she would find desirable. The design process will continue until December 2015, with construction scheduled from January 2016 to March 2017.
Another woman in the audience asked why a small basketball hoop was not included in the design, since many pre-teens enjoy shooting baskets.
Villareal replied that designers followed the ideas in the 2010 Master Plan for the park, and “having a fixed sport court was not the desired approach.”
Responding to another question about hours of operation, Lozovoy said the park would be closed from 12:01 to 5 a.m. and open from 5 a.m. to midnight. “If there are significant security issues, we would consider 5 a.m. to 10 p.m.,” Lozovoy said.
Another man asked if the park’s staff would consider keeping the park open later than its usual operating hours for special events. “We would certainly consider that,” Lozovoy said. “If it’s something beyond midnight … I’m sure we would be open to discussing that.”
In answer to another question about whether security cameras would be installed, Lozovoy said they would not be.
Another woman asked if the park would be lit up after dark.
Villareal replied that the park is lit by streetlights and lights in the plaza, along with lighting in the open lawn and play area. “It will be safe,” Villareal said.
For more information, visit www.portlandoregon.gov/parks, click “Projects,” then click “Gateway Park and Urban Plaza.”