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City funds help Cully park plans gel

Twelve years in the making, Northeast Portland's Cully neighborhood is one step closer to getting a new park, thanks to a $1.25 million investment by Portland Parks & Recreation.

Parks Commissioner Amanda Fritz made the announcement Tuesday night that the $1.25 million will contribute to the first building phase of Thomas Cully Park.

The 25-acre future park at Northeast 72nd Avenue, north of Killingsworth Street, will address the lack of parks and natural areas in the Cully neighborhood. The $1.25 million will come from city system development charges — money raised from construction development rather than general fund tax dollars.

“The Cully neighborhood is unique; it is one of the most diverse neighborhood in Portland, perhaps the state,” Fritz said in a statement. “And, perhaps because of this diversity, Cully is home to some of the most dedicated and motivated community advocates in the city. I am proud to work towards our shared goal of completing Thomas Cully Park.”

Last week, Fritz earmarked funds for two new parks in east Portland. The Parks Bureau will begin final design this year on both Beech Park (approximately 16 acres off Northeast 126th Avenue and Beech Street) and Gateway Park & Plaza (four acres off Northeast Halsey Street, between Northeast 104th and 106th avenues). Construction on both parks is scheduled to begin in early 2016.

Back in Cully, Fritz says 60 percent of residents in the future park's service area belong to traditionally underserved communities, and 45 percent have an annual household income of $40,000 or less.

In Central Northeast Portland, nearly two out of five households (405 families) don't live within a half-mile of a park or natural area.

City data shows that Central Northeast is second only to the area east of Interstate 205 in terms of the greatest need for parks and natural areas in Portland.

The city purchased the 25-acre Thomas Cully Park property in 2002. Previously, it was a sand and gravel mine, then a construction landfill. The Parks Bureau worked with the community in 2008 to create a master plan for the park; City Council adopted the master plan in February 2013.

Verde, a Portland nonprofit that invests in neighborhood environmental projects, approached the city in 2011 in coordination with the “Let Us Build Cully Park!” coalition. The coalition of 17 community-based organizations partnered with them on a new model to develop the park.

In June 2012, Portland's City Council approved an agreement between Verde and Portland Parks & Recreation to develop the park.

Since then, Verde has raised $2.4 million to implement the first phase of the Thomas Cully Master Plan, out of an estimated $3.8 million for the phase one work.

The city’s latest investment in the park will produce many benefits for low-income people and people of color, says Alan Hipólito, executive director of Verde. “This new park in a park-deprived neighborhood shows a deep commitment to hundreds of our neighbors,” he says. “People benefit through community engagement and community-based park design. New jobs will result, youth education opportunities are created, and health is improved with a safe place to recreate.”

Already at Cully Park, the community garden was installed in 2012. Yet-to-be-built improvements include pathways, an dog off-leash area, playgrounds and picnic areas, tribal gathering area, youth soccer field, basketball court, parking lot, restroom, north slope restoration, and improvements to Northeast 72nd Avenue.

Implementation of master plan's second phase includes construction of multiple sports fields, improvements to access from Northeast Killingsworth, and building a parking area off of Northeast Killingsworth Street and 75th Avenue. Students from nearby Scott School helped design the adjacent Northeast 72nd Avenue Community Garden, which opened in 2012, and have had input on the park’s playground design.

A proposed feature, the Inter-Tribal Gathering Garden, will offer opportunities for honoring and educating about indigenous cultural values and ethics through holistic, culturally-significant garden design and maintenance.

The Parks Bureau has a list of maintenance needs of more than $400 million, and the funds dedicated to creating new parks is for increasing capacity only. Existing parks have fallen by the wayside; there’s an additional need of $450 million for hundreds of existing parks projects.

Fritz says investing in new parks like Cully is the right thing to do.

“For more than a hundred years, Portlanders built our parks system through a series of legacy investments,” she says. “Now, we don’t have funding for the needs in growing neighborhoods, nor for maintenance of existing facilities. It’s time for Portland to begin to think about what our legacy will be. Will it be a legacy of increased equity and increased commitment to our region’s uniquely beautiful parks and natural areas? I hope so.”