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Project gives 'green' a chance in Gateway

Backers tap off-road bikers, online funds to create 38-acre park


by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - East Portland parks advocate Linda Robinson, sitting down due to hip issues, has worked for years to create a large park and off-road bicycling complex on this unused land near the Gateway transit center.East Portland neighborhood leaders are turning to an unconventional constituency — off-road bicycling enthusiasts — and an unconventional funding source — crowdfunding via the Internet — to promote revitalization of the Gateway area.

Community leaders have latched onto the idea of building a world-class off-road bicycling center north of the Gateway transit center along Interstate 205. They hope it could bring half a million visitors a year, and a new public image for the Gateway area and perhaps all of East Portland.

The Oregon Department of Transportation will soon hand over a 24-acre parcel of surplus land to the Portland parks bureau for a future park dubbed Gateway Green. Though the city says it lacks money to develop such a park, that isn’t stopping The Friends of Gateway Green and other supporters.

Beginning this week, a Portland State University entity called Oregon’s Kitchen Table launched an online survey to quiz residents about what they’d like to see in the park. The list of possible features is weighted toward off-road bicycling, including a single-track trail, a bike park, a cyclocross track, gravity trails, and youth-focused bike trails.

Then backers hope to commission a formal design for Gateway Green by raising $125,000 via the Indiegogo crowdfunding website. Backers view it as an important experiment, because crowdfunding has rarely been used to pay for such community projects.

“The traditional way, ‘Let’s let the city do it,’ doesn’t work anymore,” says Ted Gilbert, a developer who came up with the Gateway Green idea about eight years ago.

With a design in hand, backers can then start seeking grants, corporate donations and other funds to develop the $3 million to $6 million complex, says East Portland parks advocate Linda Robinson. Gilbert and Robinson have served as citizen volunteers for years with the Portland Development Commission’s Gateway urban renewal area.

Region’s rebranding

The Gateway area is known mostly for the Fred Meyer-anchored shopping center that gave it its name in 1954, and TriMet’s transit center next to I-205.

By all accounts, Gateway should be “teed up” for growth, Gilbert says, because it boasts two freeways, three light-rail lines, the I-205 bike path, and a short hop to the airport.

The city is banking on Gateway to be a magnet attracting thousands of new residents and jobs to accommodate Portland’s future growth. But so far, the city’s urban renewal effort has largely been a disappointment.

“So little has happened, we decided we needed to have a catalyst,” says Gilbert, who owns an apartment complex and eight-acre development site in Gateway.

“It doesn’t have an identity, or a feeling of community,” Robinson says.

Several years ago, Gilbert convinced ODOT to hand over 24 acres of surplus land between I-205 and the Banfield freeway to the city for a token $19,300. The bargain price is based on its appraised value, because the area lacks road access, Robinson says. ODOT will retain 14 adjoining acres next to the freeways that can, for all intents and purposes, be landscaped to appear part of Gateway Green, Robinson says, making it a 38-acre park.

Gateway Green would stretch north from the Gateway transit center to Fremont Street, between I-205 and the Banfield freeway.

Bicyclists have been using an abandoned area next to I-205 for off-road biking for years, though that site was closed off this spring and bulldozed, Robinson says. When off-road bicycle enthusiasts approached ODOT about making the land available several years ago, the agency directed them to Gilbert.

That jibed with feedback he and others in the Gateway area were getting from the community.

“We identified early that cycling was one of the sweet spots,” he says, and could be pivotal to a “rebranding” of Gateway and, by extension, all of East Portland.

East Portland already is home to some 40 percent of the city’s school-age children, yet the area lacks the cool factor of much of Portland.

What better way to change people’s “mind-sets,” backers say, than with bicycling and Internet crowdfunding?

The hope is that 25- to 45-year-olds with discretionary income will realize the area has affordable homes and great access to the city and airport, Gilbert says.

Generous donors

Aside from off-road bicycling, the park also could include a 12-acre forested parcel, a children’s nature play area and other traditional park amenities.

Friends of Gateway Green was adopted as a community-building project by Oregon Solutions, a group started by Gov. John Kitzhaber, and now an arm of Portland State University, that tries to mobilize the public and private sectors around creative ideas. Oregon Solutions now is directed by Beverly Stein, former Multnomah County chair and state lawmaker.

In December, Oregon Solutions brought together 40 groups that made a commitment to make the Gateway Green project happen, Gilbert says.

The use of Indiegogo could prove important for future projects, says Sarah Giles, Oregon Solutions special project manager. “We’re just testing it out to see if this will work for a collaborative community process.”

People who donate money will be eligible to get T-shirts. More generous donors will get an invitation to a celebration. Those who refer multiple donors can get gift certificates for bike apparel and other goodies.

The survey by Oregon’s Kitchen Table is slated to last through Aug. 16. Then the Indiegogo campaign takes place from Sept. 5 to Oct. 7. That’s 33 days to raise $125,000.