PORTLAND, Ore. - Gold shovels were used to dig up some of the earth at Northwest 10th and Overton on Tuesday for the official groundbreaking of Portland's newest public park.
Right now, The Fields Neighborhood Park in the Pearl District isn't much more than a 3.2-acre piece of land with grass on it and some mud from recent rains.
But come next year it will be a greenspace featuring a children's area, enclosed off-leash dog area, a large lawn, sitting areas, paths, picnic tables and modern landscaping.
It's all part of a long-term project that started well over a decade ago.
The original plan was to create four parks in Northwest Portland, with each of them offering something different. Jamison Square, for example, has a fountain for kids to play in and Tanner Springs Park is a quiet spot for folks to take time to reflect.
The Fields, which will be geared towards dog owners and lawn activities, is the third park in the series and a riverfront park is the idea for the fourth park.
"The Fields is going to be an amazing place for people to stretch out a little bit," Mike Abbaté, Director of Portland Parks & Recreation, told the folks who had gathered for the groundbreaking. "It's going to have a huge lawn area - a big elliptical lawn area over an acre in size where you can throw a Frisbee and run around and chase your kids and just have a great time."
Rendering of The Fields Neighborhood Park (courtesy: Portland Parks & Recreation).
Looking at the rendering of the park, it certainly looks like it'll be a beautiful place but one of the things you might be wondering about is why the city is spending money on something like this with their budget so tight these days.
You have to keep in mind that the city rarely uses its general fund for projects like this - the money comes out of a pot that is funded from completely different sources. Some of those sources might include one-time fees that are assessed on new development, urban renewal money, grants and partnerships. The Fields falls into this category.
City Commissioner Nick Fish, who was at the groundbreaking, told us a project like this can also help the local economy - and not just in the way you might expect (by providing a few jobs during construction). He said a park can attract new business to the area and more tenants to some of the nearby condos and apartments that are sitting empty. Fish, who oversees Portland Parks & Recreation, said it's also an investment in the city's future.
"We have to continue to invest in the things that we know will make us successful in the long term," he said. "People choose to locate their businesses in Portland because the owners and the workers want to be in a city like Portland. So this is our brand."
"We think it is setting the stage for the next development in the Pearl," said Eric Jacobson, Senior Project Manager with the Portland Development Commission. Jacobson has been working on this project for a while now and is excited that it's finally going to come to fruition. "We see this as a complete neighborhood coming together."
Of course, the Pearl District has earned a reputation as a place where well-off professionals live and chic businesses sell everything from designer cupcakes to high-end furniture.
But like anything in this world, look a little deeper and you'll find that it's more than that. The goal all along has been to develop a neighborhood that brings people of different walks of life together.
"About 25 percent of the housing here is extremely affordable and subsidized," Fish said. "But because it's an integrated community where everything blends in, you don't know that. It's actually one of the most successful integrated neighborhoods in the city."
Low-income housing is just a stone's throw from The Fields and the fact that the residents there will soon have a greenspace to enjoy is something that Fish thinks will be a big plus.
"The fact that in the shadow of our newest development that has families that often don't get their fair share, that they will have one of the most beautiful parks in the city almost across the street is a beautiful thing," he said.
"Hopefully it generates the much needed energy that we need at this northern end," Tiffany Sweitzer, President of Hoyt Street Properties (a company that develops in the Pearl District), told the crowd at the groundbreaking.
Portland Parks & Recreation, the Portland Development Commission and the Pearl District Neighborhood Association have been partnering on the project. A company out of Salem will be doing the construction work, which is scheduled to begin soon. The target completion date is late next year.