Work refurbishing Argay Park’s four tennis courts is underway. STAFF/2017

Work refurbishing Argay Park’s four tennis courts is underway.

The tennis courts at Argay Park have begun their overhaul, with the four courts getting a complete facelift. New surfaces, nets, stanchions, benches, a water fountain and more features are being installed to bring the currently dilapidated courts back to life. As is frequently the case with such projects, not everyone is overjoyed.

Emily Doumerc is an Argay Terrace resident who is among a contingent that says the court renovation is not what the neighborhood needs or wants. She declined to be interviewed for this piece, but did say she felt the Argay Park tennis courts were “a huge waste of money and insensitive to the needs of the community.”

There was some attempt to stop the renovations from being launched and a request to install a water feature in Argay Park instead to serve the large population of children who live nearby. Sources, which could not be confirmed, alleged a petition that gathered over 200 signatures was submitted to Portland Parks & Recreation (PP&R) requesting as much.

The Memo reached out to Doug Cook, chair of the Argay Terrace Neighborhood Association, for comment. “That’s news to me. I have never heard about anyone putting in a water feature at Argay Park,” says Cook.

There was a discussion about not doing all four courts as tennis after the renovation, says Cook, and that there was some consideration given to installing a pickleball court and a futsal court along with two tennis courts instead. For those unfamiliar, futsal is version of soccer played on a court with a smaller ball, smaller nets and a more freestyle feel. Pickleball is a fast-paced combination of tennis, badminton and ping pong that basically has players standing on the table, in a sense, and playing with a whiffle ball.

While neither of those sports may be household names just yet, at least, the theory held, there were some people in the neighborhood who play them. Part of the underlying concern of complainants like Doumerc in this scenario is the reality of demographics and sports.

A 2012 study from the University of Alabama found a noticeable difference in the way schools in more affluent suburban areas incorporated tennis in elementary school curriculum—a huge predictor of whether people will participate in the sport later. Urban and lower-income school systems were less than half as likely to even feature tennis as an option, let alone as a module in physical education classes. So, it may come as no surprise that for years skaters dominated the tennis courts, contributing to their ruin with almost no resistance. And even after their renovation was announced, there was immediately discussion of not doing tennis courts after the renovation at all.

Mark Ross, with media relations at PP&R, weighed in on the topic. “The courts at Argay Park are the only PP&R tennis courts east of I-205, so they are an important asset for access to the sport of tennis in east Portland,” says Ross. That doesn’t necessarily mean they’re the only public courts, just the only ones owned by PP&R. But Ross makes it clear that boosting tennis participation in urban and lower-income communities is a big part of the plan. “PP&R has an agreement with the U.S. Tennis Association to provide tennis programming focused on youth at PP&R sites, including Argay Park once the work is completed,” says Ross, continuing, “… this is the only opportunity to provide this programming … allowing us to reach a more diverse and under-represented population.”

“With the proposal [for pickleball and futsal courts] we were thinking, why not get contemporary and give people what they’re most apt to use, give them a mix?” counters Cook, with the reasoning for the other idea.

Either way, there was virtually no way a petition, whether it had 200 signatures or even more, would have changed the course of this renovation project. For one thing, Ross couldn’t even confirm whether PP&R received it. So, it’s entirely possible, if the petition was ever ultimately submitted, that it simply didn’t go to the right place. Moreover, it was probably way too late anyway, as this project has been in the works for quite a while now. It goes back to a Sports Court Technical Paper released by PP&R back in June of 2008, which surveyed the city’s tennis courts and named Argay Park as one of nine courts worthy of being renovated and turned into a “Community Tennis Center.” While it’s unclear exactly what that means, beyond getting a shiny makeover, the paper does paint a stark picture of public tennis availability on the east side of the city. Their survey map shows only 20 total courts at four locations on the entire east side of I-205.

The funding for the renovation came from the Parks Replacement Bond (Measure 26-159), which was passed in late 2014 and provided 68 million dollars in funding to revamp Portland’s parks in a variety of ways. According to Cook, the city was interested in the mixed-use proposal, but since the funding came from the bond, it was already too late. “After everything is signed off on, you can’t go back and start changing how you spend your money,” says Cook, “which makes sense.”

One can only imagine how late to the party the petition would have been, even if it had gotten in the correct hands.

Lastly, Ross points out that PP&R has a very specific channel for these types of requests and communications, due to the large volume of input they get and their still-massive shortfalls in funding.

“As for community members who desire various amenities in parks, there is a Parks Proposal Process used to suggest such projects: Many community members wish to contribute to the vitality of Portland Parks & Recreation by proposing park enhancements or changes. However,” says Ross, “due to the large number of recent proposals and organizational restructuring, as well as a lack of funding and [PP&R’s] ongoing funding challenges, the Community-Initiated Parks Proposal process is being temporarily suspended. Neighbors are welcome to submit new proposals, but they may not receive attention until existing projects can be fully evaluated.”

It remains to be seen whether the Argay tennis court renovations will achieve their stated goals in terms of bringing the sport of (wealthy suburban) kings to the area east of 82nd Avenue. At least with the wealth of new options for skaters at Luuwit View and Gateway Discovery parks, it is to be hoped the tennis courts will stay nice and used mostly for actual tennis playing for the foreseeable future.

Argay Park General information

Location: Northeast 141st Avenue between Beech and Failing streets

Acreage: 8.85

Acquired: 1984

Amenities: Basketball court, dog off-leash area, paved and unpaved paths, picnic tables, playground, soccer and softball fields

Park hours: 5 a.m. to midnight. No parking on the park side of street after 10 p.m.

To reserve a sports field, call 503-823-2525.

To volunteer at your neighborhood park, call 503-823-5121.