Compared to a typical evening activity—like a night at the movies—planning committee meetings are not very glamorous. Instead of explosions or conflicts resolved in 90 minutes, you have budget spreadsheets and PowerPoint presentations. Still, about 30 citizens, including committee members, turned out January 26. The topic: the future of the Halsey-Weidler business district, between Northeast 102nd and 114th avenues.
This meeting was brought about as part of the public process for the district’s $20 million-dollar makeover—part of the Gateway district’s final five years of urban renewal.
During the meeting, an architect and representatives from two city agencies took turns explaining their involvement in the improvements. The Memo has attempted to hit on some of the key points discussed.
Portland Development Commission
First to speak was Susan Kuhn, the project manager with the Portland Development Commission for this area. Kuhn began her remarks to the group with the caveat that PDC’s 2017–18 budget is in the process of debate and approval. The budget, which is approved annually, is one of the avenues for citizens to provide direct input on spending.
That’s because while many of the urban renewal area’s items are set in stone, 20 percent of the urban renewal area’s budget is to be spent on a potpourri of grants, loan programs and infrastructure. The exact allocation of these budget items is flexible.
PDC will hold public hearings on its budget on April 11 and April 18 (location to be announced).
While many grants and loans are spoken for, there is still some grant money, as well as business loans, on the table.
“Do you have a threshold of, ‘Okay, we’ve waited nine months and nobody is interested in Halsey-Weidler, can we move the money somewhere else’?” one attendee asked, referring to the rest of the Gateway area.
“I know there’s a lot of outreach I need to do,” said Kuhn. “I’m looking at Venture Portland to maybe help with that. We really need to get the word out to the business owners that these funds are available.”
After going through an overview of the PDC’s Gateway action plan budget, the floor was opened for questions.
One participant was puzzled over the largely unassigned status of the $3.5 million in commercial loans in Gateway for this year.
“The gist that I’m getting is there’s a huge pile of money here, and no one wants to take it. Is that what’s going on?” he asked.
Kuhn responded that one reason for this is PDC’s status as a gap lender. “You have to have a project that pencils in this area, get your funding, and then if there’s a gap, our money comes in there,” said Kuhn.
Additionally, a project must meet PDC’s focus on jobs, economic growth and social equity. In this district, it also needs to align with the Halsey-Weidler investment strategy.
If grant money and loans are not assigned, they roll forward to the next year, where it can be reallocated or reassigned to other areas of the urban renewal district.
[Note: on Feb. 13, $200,000 in community livability grants were awarded to projects in Gateway. See Business Memos.]
Portland Parks & Recreation
Next up to speak was George Lozovoy, a project manager with the Portland Parks & Recreation to provide an update on Gateway Discovery Park. The park is located at Northeast Halsey and 106th Avenue.
Construction is estimated at $5.2 million, Lozovoy said, with an estimated completion date of October 2017. As of the date of this meeting, Portland Parks & Recreation was still waiting on permits for the Halsey-Weidler street improvements.
“That’s one of the last pieces that we need for the project,” said Lozovoy.
Another feature of note discussed about the park is it’s unique lighting.
“This is the first time—I’ve been with parks for 21 years—that we actually had a lighting designer as part of the team,” said Lozovoy. “Typically, it’s an electrical engineer that helps us put the lighting [in], so there’s some really subtle differences in lighting depending on the area you’re in. I think we have five different types of lighting … and there’s quite a bit of character to it.”
The park is also wired with outlets throughout the park, which will enable events or festivals to be held in the space.
One attendee raised a concern about the lack of parking. Lozovoy stressed, however, that parking is currently slated to be available around the entire perimeter of the park.
Alicia Hammock, who will supervise the day-to-day operations of the park, added that she will be working to deter antisocial activity, like she currently does with her efforts at Holladay and Director Parks. She will be doing outreach to find ongoing activities to activate the space.
“We’re really interested in making sure we have a multicultural space and that everyone feels welcome in this space,” said Hammock. “Please share ideas,” she said to the group.
Last to speak was Ben Ngan, a consultant with Nevue Ngan Associates, who gave some update on the Halsey-Weidler Streetscape plan. As a general reminder, Ngan told the group the purpose of the Streetscape project was to make Halsey and Weidler safer for foot traffic, with improvements like crosswalks and flashing beacons.
“You need to get people out of their cars and walking on the street. Otherwise, how does that kind of redevelopment happen?”
In addition to making the main streets safer, the Streetscape project will brand the neighborhood. Ngan showed and discussed design for the east entry triangle, located at Northeast 112th Avenue where Halsey and Weidler merge. The east and west entry triangles serve as a literal gateway to the district.
Some highlights of the design shared by Ngan: a stormwater rain garden on the east end of the triangle, necessitating the removal of the sidewalk around it. Crews will cut up the sidewalk in chunks and recycle it to build a decorative wall around the rain garden.
Additionally, Portland Bureau of Transportation will design and build a solar array in the triangle, with a display that will potentially give information about the energy being generated. New lighting will be installed that is intended to match the same style as the new park.
Lastly, Ngan touched on some changes to Northeast 103rd Avenue between Clackamas and Halsey Street, which will be repaved and receive some planters.