By Don MacGillivray
Without action in the near future Inner SE will lose an opportunity to add a significant piece of open space to the business center along SE Morrison St.
Centrally located in the vibrant Buckman neighborhood just to the south of the landmark Washington-Monroe High School is a 1.3 acre block bounded by SE Morrison, SE Alder, SE 13th (vacated) and SE 14th.
Buckman and the Central Eastside Industrial District are already known for its housing density, lack of parks, and the growth that is expected to continue in the coming years.
Half of the site is now grass and it adjoins another half block to the west. There is a parking lot on the north one third, and an old school shop building remains on the western side of the property.
Morrison-Belmont Streets and Stark Street are blessed with frequent bus service that is likely to be improved over time.
This piece of property could become a pocket park or a civic plaza that would be used by the neighborhood in a manner similar to Pioneer Courthouse Square.
Just in the last few weeks the area lost a similar one acre park at SE 12th and Stark St. previously owned by the St. Francis parish.
This is a great loss to the area and adds to the need for parks to adequately serve a young and growing population.
Portland Landmarks Commission recently voted unanimously to place the Washington High School Building on the National Register of Historic Places. The high school closed in 1981 and boasts many notable alumni (among them Portland’s original gourmet chef, James Beard, and the double Nobel Prize scholar Linus Pauling).
Since its purchase in 2013, the 113,500 square foot building has been extensively renovated. Revolution Hall is a beautiful, state-of-the concert venue housed within the building and the anchor office tenant is New Seasons Market Support Center.
Martha’s Café and bar provides morning coffee, a quick lunch, a happy hour in the afternoon, and the building’s 2,500 sq. ft. roof terrace has great views of central Portland in the evening.
Copious Creative Inc. is leasing 10,500 square feet and smaller tenants are able to lease former classrooms.
If the 1.3 acre site along Morrison St. is sold to a private developer, it will become the home to another six to eight story market-rate apartment building covering the full site, thereby hiding the view of the High School building from SE Morrison.
Within the next four months a critical decision will be made regarding the funding for this site.
$985,000 is set aside until May of this year for the Washington High Community Center (WHCC) project under the control of the Portland Development Commissions (PDC).
If no action is taken, these funds will go for other purposes. This money could help pay for the 1.3 acre property and if not, it should become seed money for the Community Center.
The other deadline concerning the purchase of this property occurs at the end of June 2017. At that time the property may be sold to the highest bidder making it much less likely that the Parks Bureau will acquire it.
The promise by the City to build a Community Center at Washington Monroe is more than twenty years in the making.
It was first mentioned in the Parks Futures Plan of the mid 1980s. In 2004, two advisory groups were formed to review the Washington-Monroe site for its suitability as a Community and Aquatics Center.
That was found to be an excellent choice and the purchase of 4.5 acres soon followed. In 2010 another study group was formed to work with SERA architects to create building development plans. The comprehensive reports of this work are available on-line.
All along the way the City expressed great interest in the project and it is expected to be the next major Community Center to be built here.
The surrounding neighborhood associations and the entire SE Uplift board composed of the twenty southeast neighborhoods continue to advocate for the Community Center.
The great growth of the area further begs for this promise to be fulfilled as soon as possible. There are 500 new apartment units built or under construction with in a quarter mile from the site and another 1,000 units about three quarters of a mile away or less.
This Community Center will be a necessary addition to the holistic vibrancy of Inner SE and the mixed-use nature of the area.
This request has been renewed by SE Uplift along with the desire that the 1.3 acres adjoining the existing property be purchased as a park, civic plaza, or other open space alternative.
SE Uplift and the neighborhoods are willing to work to fulfill this vision by seeking partners and others interested in making it happen.
There is the possibility of major grants and other funding. However the Washington-Monroe Community and Aquatics Center cannot be built without the participation of the City sponsorship and operation.
Surely Portland can achieve what our neighbors up in Vancouver, Washington accomplished when they built their Firstenburg Community Center in 2006 with the help of $3 million in seed money provided by Edward and Mary Firstenburg.