On a sunny May morning, more than a hundred people gathered for the groundbreaking ceremony at Gateway Discovery Park, the new park off Northeast Halsey at 106th Avenue in the Hazelwood neighborhood. A boy rode in on his father’s shoulders. A girl was cradled on her mother’s chest. Heavy yellow earth-moving equipment dotted the landscape of the otherwise unadorned grassy field. A man in a bright orange vest danced and swayed and muttered audibly to no one in particular.
In addition, as part of the project Human Solutions, the east Portland secular nonprofit that “builds pathways out of poverty,” is planning a mixed-use building with 40 units of subsidized housing, commercial space and a new headquarters for itself (“Affordable housing part of new park site” MCM May 2016).
Portland Parks & Recreation spokesman Mark Ross said in an email the 3.2-acre park’s overall budget is $8.2 million, with construction costs estimated at $5.2 million. Money for the park’s construction comes from three sources: $3.975 million in parks system development charges (not general fund monies), one million from the Portland Development Commission and $225,000 from Harper’s Playground. The park is expected to open by fall 2017, Ross said.
Menominee tribe elder Lois Chilcott—dressed in a seashell-sequined top with a red sash and belt, a bird-feather fan, yellow moccasins and bells sewn into the inside seam of her calf-length tunic—blessed the future park land by sprinkling tobacco along a central path leading to a tarp-covered speaker area.
Chilcott invoked the “Creator God” in English rather than in her tribe’s native tongue, appreciative that the Creator God hears all prayers regardless of language. “Great Spirit, thank you for the lessons for right living,” she intoned. “We always should be respectful of everyone … and everything you created. … Bring this land back into useful [service],” she concluded.
Others spoke including PP&R Director Mike Abbaté, Commissioner Amanda Fritz, Portland Development Commission Chair Tom Kelly and longtime Gateway Area Business Association President Fred Sanchez, who gave a long oral history of the Gateway area, including the neighborhood around the future park.
Attendees were attentive and appreciative for the most part as many of the key players in the design and construction of Gateway Discovery Park were called out of the crowd, including PP&R’s Gateway Park project manager George Lozovoy and Hazelwood neighborhood doyenne and parks volunteer Linda Robinson, who’ll have a bench with her name inscribed on it in the park.
Ross said they are hopeful the park will be a “welcoming destination for all Portlanders.” Sleeping in the park, as with all city parks, is not permitted; however, he reminds us that “it is not a crime to simply be homeless; and there are thousands of people experiencing homelessness in Portland right now. That sort of crisis impacts many public spaces, including parks. The park will be for everyone, though unpermitted and illegal behavior cannot be tolerated.”
Ross adds that once construction is complete and the park opens, maintenance crews will visit the park on a daily basis, as they do at every city park. “There is expected to be a high volume of activities and visitors,” Ross said. “So the park should be clean, pleasant and enjoyable for all park visitors once it is completed.”
Gold-colored spades were manned by an array of dignitaries for the customary earth-turning ceremony.
Kids were invited by a construction worker to sit in the cab of a large front-loader.
A layered and double-frosted cake was served, and people cliqued together and milled about.
“Having an actual park here will be so much better than just a piece of grass,” said full-time student Kim Rinehart, who lives with her grandmother on Northeast 108th Avenue, just south of Halsey Street. “It’s pretty cool; it’s about time to have a park in this area, because we don’t really have one close to where we live. They could have done it sooner, but at least they’re finally doing it.”
Rinehart isn’t as concerned with Human Solutions’ plan to build low-income housing as part of the new construction as she is with increased traffic. She commutes dozens of miles to Portland Community College’s Rock Creek Campus by car and bus. “Ever since they added new apartments, the traffic over here has gotten really bad,” she said. “Maybe more housing will mean more traffic, but there’s a need for it. I think it’s good to have low-income housing because there isn’t enough in Portland.”
Groundbreaking attendees studied a diagram of the park and its surrounds and talked about the park’s grass and concrete layout and complained about Human Solutions’ mixed-use development proposal for the adjacent one-acre plot of land.
Gateway Discovery neighbor Jessa Sweany is happy about the new park. “We’re very excited [about the park],” she said; but she is cautious about Human Solutions’ 40 units of subsidized housing. “I have mixed feelings about that.” n