Susan Kuhn, Prosper Portland’s relationship manager in the Gateway Regional Center Urban Renewal Area, and Lucas Gray of Propel Studio listen to Heather Hoell’s presentation during last month’s Halsey-Weidler Group meeting. STAFF/2017

Susan Kuhn, Prosper Portland’s relationship manager in the Gateway Regional Center Urban Renewal Area, and Lucas Gray of Propel Studio listen to Heather Hoell’s presentation during last month’s Halsey-Weidler Group meeting.

A triad of local organizations—Venture Portland, Propel Studio and Friends of Gateway Green—gathered to talk about Gateway’s immediate future on Sept. 21 at the East Portland Neighborhood Office.

The crux of the conversation revolved around the Gateway District branding and wayfinding project that is currently being undertaken by Propel Studio and Friends of Gateway Green. As previously reported, (“Grant money funds branding initiative for Gateway” MCM Aug. 2017), the two have joined hands to measure Gateway’s most marketable assets through community input, in large part via a public online survey. Their objective is to rebrand the Gateway District to individualize the region and gain traction for the new Gateway Green park.

“We’re thinking through a name, symbol or sign that lets people know what the Gateway area means. How might we pull this one community together visually? How do you know that you’re in your place as opposed to somebody else’s place?” explains Heather Hoell, the executive director of Venture Portland who gave the opening presentation of the night. “The vision is to grow business and neighborhoods. Venture Portland is the support system for business districts.”

Hoell noted that when an organization like Venture Portland looks to brand districts, it looks at business assets, cultural assets and even human assets from any given area. For example, does anybody famous live in Gateway?

In brainstorming for Gateway, Hoell cited examples of other Portland neighborhoods that have undergone successful rebranding. Foster, for example, decided to capitalize on its road. Mississippi focused on its mom-and-pop image, as all its businesses were owned by residents of the neighborhood.

During the Sept. 21 meeting, the results of the survey were mapped out, giving attendees an in-depth sampling of Gateway resident public opinion on the specifics of the rebranding initiative.

One question had Gateway residents answer the query, “What word best describes Gateway District to you?” Many of the responses (19 percent) suggest that Gateway is a transportation hub, while 12 percent believe the Gateway District is known for its opportunities and potential, and an additional 11 percent believe Gateway is most notable for its demonstrated diversity.

In explaining these results, it’s likely Gateway’s image as a transportation hub is spurred by its anchoring Gateway Transit Center—though notably, Gateway is also the most ethnically (and linguistically) diverse of all of Portland’s 50 neighborhood business districts, even standing out in its heterogeneity statewide.

Perceptions were confirmed through responses to the following question: “Which image best relates to Gateway?” About a quarter of respondents (25.8 percent) chose a photo of a MAX train entering a station, while a clear majority (41.7 percent) chose a busy strip with many business signs. Still, the idea that Gateway is marked by its application of transportation is noted.

Though the wording is scrupulous, the next question also provided photos as answers and confirmed Gateway’s image as a transportation hub. The question was, “Which image below best describes Gateway?” 47.7 percent of respondents chose a photo depicting a ribbon of highways, while 18.1 percent selected an aerial photo of a suburban street, and 7.4 percent chose the image of a public park.

Respondents’ favorite slogans for Gateway, in order of vote percentage, were: Discover Gateway (17.2 percent), Portland’s Gateway (15.2 percent) and Explore Gateway (11.3 percent). Discover Gateway and Portland’s Gateway got equal votes, the highest two, for “second choice” for Gateway’s slogan with 14.2 percent each. For now, it looks like Discover Gateway is the victor.

When respondents wrote in their own choices for Gateway’s slogan, they came up with “Gateway: Crossroads of the City” and “Gateway: The International District.”

Out of all survey respondents, 43 percent live in east Portland, 19 percent in the Southeast Uplift neighborhood and 14 percent in the Central Northeast neighborhood. In terms of which part of Portland respondents work in, 26 percent (the majority) work in the west/northwest, while 19 percent work in east Portland. Border lines were based on territories controlled by different Portland neighborhood associations, district coalitions and offices with boundaries.

Acting as the evening’s second presenter, Linda Robinson of Gateway Green reminded the dozen people in attendance what Gateway Green is and why it’s alive and kicking. Initially, the organization was forged to spearhead the acquisition of Gateway Green, Portland’s newest and most innovative park. Today, it consists of 25 acres dubbed “Portland’s first mountain bike park” by Willamette Week.

Sadly, Willamette Week noted that Gateway Green is potentially weakened by a 2016 Oregon Supreme Court Decision maintaining that volunteers building a public park can be sued if a park visitor is physically injured. A park like Gateway Green, that markets adventure sports, could be most directly affected by this court decision. In addition, a tripwire was reported by on Sept. 14 at Gateway Green. It’s unknown if the offender who planted the tripwire had anything personal against the park itself. When asked if trip wires are still an issue, Robinson did not respond. Yet Robinson is still proud of the infant park, which she’s nurtured for eight years. “Gateway Green was formed in 2009 to make the park happen,” explains Robinson. “It was obvious we needed something to help make Gateway happen compared to other urban renewal areas. We needed a reason for people to come to Gateway.”

Since opening this year, Gateway Green has found advanced media coverage and public interest, but it also suffers from its very foundations. As a project built on neglected land in a depression next to the pollution soaked I-205 Freeway that was dubbed overlooked and out of the way, it now faces issues with gaining traction due to its wayward location.

“People have a hard time finding the park. You can see it from the freeway, but how do you find it from there?” asks Robinson. “If you got off the MAX today, you’d have no idea how to get to Gateway Discovery Park (which has not yet opened). The whole idea was to put some signage in the Gateway Area; we wanted to do a study to see where you’d put it and where it would go.”

And so, Gateway Green, Robinson’s baby, has been at the forefront of Gateway-area planning activity, including the survey.

“We’re planning for two immediate projects: wayfinding signs that lead to Gateway Green and some signage to create identity throughout the district showcasing the many different cultures and languages [of the area],” says Lucas Gray, a co-owner and project designer from Propel Studio, and the third and final speaker at the meeting. “A third item would be stenciled graphics painted to help people find the transit center and new park.”

Propel Studio applied for a grant from People for Bikes and finds out Oct. 2 if the wayfinding signs will be possible. If the grant is received, Propel Studio can then fabricate them and install them by the end of the year. The other projects will be funded by a Prosper Portland grant awarded to Friends of Gateway Green. “We don’t have a specific timeline for when they [the additional projects] will be installed, but my guess is early next year,” adds Gray.