New Steel Bridge Skatepark would create plaza destination in Old Town

Posted by on February 14th, 2019 at 2:14 pm

View of proposed plaza looking north from Everett Street.
(Images: DAO Architecture)

There’s a renewed effort to build an urban plaza and skatepark at the west end of the Steel Bridge. The location — a vacant lot bordered by NW Naito Parkway, 1st Avenue, and Everett — is at the intersection of several key existing and future bike routes including the upcoming Flanders Neighborhood Greenway.

Overhead view of the site (in color).

Architects and advocates from Skaters for Portland Skateparks say improved access to and through the site is a top priority.

The proposed site has been eyed by advocates since 2001 when Portland’s first skatepark was built at Pier Park in St. Johns. In the Skatepark System Plan completed by Portland Parks & Recreation in 2008, the Steel Bridge site was considered the system’s crown jewel and one of 19 locations recommended for further study (six of which have been built). In 2011, Portland-based DAO Architecture developed a plan for the site (available here) under the guidance of the City of Portland and an advisory committee.

That 2011 plan won several awards and the project was lauded as a “21st century urban plaza that is skatable” (bikable too!). According to people close the project, the idea has always been to create not just a space for skateboarding, scootering, and BMX riding, but a public space that would be a major riverfront destination in a location that sorely needs more attention. Unfortunately two previous attempts to break ground on the plaza fell through: the first time due to politics, the second time due to the recession in 2010.

Now with renewed interest in Old Town development and momentum around infrastructure projects adjacent to the site, advocates feel like the time is right for another push. Joining DAO Architects and Skaters for Portland Skateparks is NW Skate Coalition and members of the Old Town Community Association (OTCA). Howard Weiner, owner of Cal Skate and former chair of the OTCA, attended a meeting to discuss the project yesterday. There’s also a new “Build the Portland Steel Bridge Skatepark” Facebook page.

Working in favor of the skatepark is broad community support and two Portland Bureau of Transportation projects: the Flanders Neighborhood Greenway and Central City in Motion Project #7.

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“There was always a push to build the jewel of our system… we have an opportunity, and I think we should pursue it.”
— Howard Weiner, Cal Skate

The Flanders bikeway is meant to connect NW 24th and Waterfront Park. Currently, Flanders comes to a dead-end at the proposed site of the skatepark. How will it cross the lot and Naito to get to the park? PBOT has tried for many years to get a new crossing between the Waterfront Park paths near the Steel Bridge and 1st Avenue, but Union Pacific Railroad and ODOT’s Rail Division have made progress very difficult. A plan we shared in 2015 showed that PBOT wants the crossing to go at the north end of the skatepark site. Money and the final design for that crossing hasn’t materialized, but with the Flanders Greenway officially starting last October, PBOT has renewed urgency to make it happen. However it remains unclear in current plans where the crossing would go. A request to PBOT for comment has not been returned.

The Central City in Motion plan adopted by council in November also has implications for the skatepark site. Project #7 will reconfigure NW Everett to include an enhanced bus lane and — most importantly — would decommission the existing on-ramp that goes through the skatepark site. Removal of that ramp was listed as the top action for progress in the 2011 DAO plan.

While momentum has ramped up, challenges remain. The price tag, at one time thought to be around $8 million, means advocates will have to seek private funding — especially given the current budget deficit at the Parks Bureau. And while the location is ideal in some ways — Tom Miller, founder of Skaters for Portland Skateparks said, “From a transportation perspective it’s perfect” — it also suffers from a complicated web of jurisdictional boundaries. PBOT manages the city streets, Parks is in charge of the riverfront paths, and ODOT owns the ramps on and off of the Steel Bridge (and their Region 1 headquarters overlooks the site).

“I’m really rooting for this! I think we are ready for a community focused public project that invests in our future and creates something beautiful for future generations.”— Catherine Odell, Saturdary Market vendor and NW Skate Coalition board member

For Old Town Community Association member Ryan Hashagen, those challenges can be overcome. “The time is right to get it done,” he shared today. Hashagen says the ad hoc group working on the project thinks a good chunk of funding could come from Prosper Portland, the city’s development commission. As detailed in The Oregonian last fall, a major Old Town/Chinatown redevelopment plan passed under former Mayor Charlies Hales still has $50 million in allocated funds that have yet to be spent. Citing its ability to activate public space and add connectivity to the neighborhood, Hashagen said, “The skatepark ticks several boxes that make it compete well for funding through the Old Town Action Plan.”

Howard Weiner, owner of Cal Skate skateboard shop in Old Town/Chinatown, said he’s excited the project is getting a new look. Nearly a decade after the recession killed the project, Weiner said Portland has grown and is in a much different place. “There was always a push to build the jewel of our system,” he shared on the phone with me today. “And with skateboarding coming to the Olympics in 2020 and the future of the Burnside Skatepark uncertain [due to a major seismic retrofit project], we have an opportunity, and I think we should pursue it.”

Catherine Odell owns a business that has a vending space at the nearby Saturday Market. She’s also a board member of the NW Skate Coaltion. “I’m really rooting for this,” she shared with me via email today. “Not only does it activate an unused space, it creates a natural flow between classic Portland attractions like the Saturday Market and the Chinese Garden, as well as creating the perfect link to crossing to the East Side and landing in the heart of Rip City!”

Odell thinks the new plaza and skatepark would make Portland proud of itself again. Why now? “Portland has undergone a lot of change, and a lot of that growth has placed more barriers between us. I think we are ready for a community focused public project like this one, that invests in our future and creates something beautiful for future generations.”

For more on the project, peruse the 2011 study (funded by the City of Portland) and follow SkatePortland.org. In related skatepark news, don’t miss the Disposable Youth photo show at See See Motorcycles (1642 NE Sandy) featuring the work of Dean Dickinson on March 2nd where half of photo sales will benefit the Powell Park Skatepark.

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and jonathan@bikeportland.org

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NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

29 Comments
  • Avatar
    maxD February 14, 2019 at 2:47 pm

    very exciting! DAO is a great firm, and this looks a great solution to a tough urban design challenge.

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    Lester Burnham February 14, 2019 at 3:14 pm

    Cool concept. Looks like it could easily be taken over by campers though.

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      Pete February 14, 2019 at 9:44 pm

      It reminds me of SF’s Embarcadero Plaza, which of course has homeless (or is houseless the PC word now?) in a city with that second biggest challenge in the country, yet they’ve worked hard to ban skateboarding there. It seems this location in Portland would have that problem whether it’s developed or not, yes? At least a skate park gives people an outlet… I call it progress when a city’s willing to set aside liability fears and let people do healthy things outdoors (that might even bump and scrape them).

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    eawriste February 14, 2019 at 3:24 pm

    Keep the Everett ramp for skateboards only. On ramps do have some use.

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    Kelly February 14, 2019 at 3:24 pm

    Why does my comment keep disappearing? The owner of this site doesn’t like people talking about homeless camps?

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      Johnny Bye Carter February 14, 2019 at 3:36 pm

      Sadly, my first thought when I saw what site it was slated at was “Where will the currently camping homeless move to?” However, due to how marshy this area is I haven’t seen a lot of campers for an otherwise attractive looking piece of property.

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      Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) February 14, 2019 at 3:43 pm

      Sorry but I’ve held the comment back because I felt it lacks respect and taste and I didn’t want it to be the first comment people saw.

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        Kelly February 14, 2019 at 5:32 pm

        How very patriarchal of you

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          Pete February 14, 2019 at 5:38 pm

          Wait, you’re playing the gender card for that?

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            Chris I February 15, 2019 at 7:56 am

            Can he/she? Kelly could also be a dude’s name. Since this is the internet, Kelly could be an angsty teenage boy for all we know.

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              David Hampsten February 15, 2019 at 3:36 pm

              Kelly’s gender is irrelevant. Jonathan is male, therefor he’s being patriarchal in his decision-making, rightly or wrongly. Had he been female or identified as such, it would presumably be matriarchal.

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                Pete February 16, 2019 at 3:21 pm

                If JM was female, any guesses to the probability someone would accuse him of being “matriarchal” for moderating a comment on homelessness? I’ll wager 0%…

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              Pete February 16, 2019 at 3:17 pm

              Kelly’s gender is as irrelevant as JM’s in the decision to moderate a gender-irrelevant comment, is my point. I make no inferences to Kelly’s gender; the ‘patriarchal’ accusation implies that JM is, though, and I doubt that highly.

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      X February 14, 2019 at 9:44 pm

      Looking forward to your interesting article about causes of homelessness, issues around same, what to do, or perhaps something about people living outside that you have actually met and talked to? As opposed to more, um, carping on the internet about people who camp here or there. Got anything original to say?

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    Johnny Bye Carter February 14, 2019 at 3:29 pm

    Great use of the space. It’s currently a sad useless meadow in an otherwise useful city.

    They really need to get that northern crossing. People coming off the Steel Bridge MUP want to go directly across and not down to the traffic light and back up. I’ve never enjoyed riding through here when I’ve needed to cross to the other side of the street. (Actually, I’ve never enjoyed riding through here due to the high speed motor vehicles.)

    It’s great that they’re tearing out the southbound on-ramp.

    But I think the idea to repurpose the old Harbor Drive stub ramp into a viewing platform is very unattractive. I don’t want to be at street level next to where cars are gassing it up the hill to get out of downtown. And the amount of grates they’re proposing defeats the purpose of using the stub ramp as cover. I say dress it up with some plants and make it a green roof.

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      oliver February 16, 2019 at 5:23 pm

      Fat chance.

      Because of the *&^*^ railroad, instead of punching a hole through the barrier and routed directly around (yet another) onramp and onto Interstate, we get pushed off of a fast direct route on to a a subtandard left side bike lane on Greeley.

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    SD February 14, 2019 at 5:03 pm

    More of this, PDX!!!

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    Ryan Hashagen February 14, 2019 at 5:22 pm

    So stoked to see the Steel Bridge Skatepark, Flanders Crossing, and Best Naito get built soon! Have always thought the Flanders crossing of Naito could be become one of the most important gateways into our city from the waterfront & what a cool way to enter Old Town – next to an active transportation oriented plaza!

    Skated around Sweden last year and many of the skateparks in Sweden have spectator seating and parks & rec kiosks included on site, like in the Steel Bridge Skatepark Plan. On the beginner side of the parks, the seats are filled with parents watching their lil ones. The park kiosks offer rental/ learn to skate programs or folks vending food. Shows how ahead the time this plan was and why it won awards.

    So the Steel Bridge Skatepark is already an “award winning skatepark design”… Now, it just needs to be built!

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    Steve B February 14, 2019 at 5:30 pm

    LETS GOOO!!

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    Adam February 15, 2019 at 1:02 am

    This would be amazing!

    It’s funny. I’ve often biked or driven by this patch of land, and thought it should be turned into a garden where locals could grow vegetables. Right now, it is just a trash-filled bowl of hideousness, with homeless people camping under it (hence the mountains of trash).

    My confusion has always been over who actually OWNS it. ODOT owns the ramps (I assume), but do they own the patch of land under the ramps? Or is that PBOT?

    I would like to see this whole god-awful area under the Steel Bridge become revitalized. It is such a blight on the landscape currently, not to mention a disaster for pedestrians and cyclists to cross Naito at.

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      David Hampsten February 15, 2019 at 2:16 am

      ODOT doesn’t own any land in this area. The Steel Bridge and the land immediately under it and on either side, as well as some of the approaches, are owned by the Union Pacific Railroad of Omaha Nebraska, according to the Multnomah County SAIL GIS website http://www3.multco.us/H5V/?viewer=SAIL.

      The skate park site seems to be owned by the City of Portland outright, who’s right-of-way is usually (but not always) managed by PBOT.

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      Chris I February 15, 2019 at 7:59 am

      Given the proximity the bridge ramps, wide roads (all with toxic runoff) and the west coast railroad mainline (mmm, Diesel pollution), it seems this would be a terrible place for a vegetable garden.

      Skate park seems like a good solution.

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        David Hampsten February 15, 2019 at 3:39 pm

        Rice might work quite well. It needs lots of water and according to various studies, much of it is already laced with arsenic, so a few more heavy metals shouldn’t make any difference.

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    pdx2wheeler February 15, 2019 at 3:41 pm

    Went to Cal Skate 2 weekends ago and had a custom board built. Crazy to now see all the skateboard talk on this site… Anyway, cannot recommend Cal Skate enough if you’re looking to get a new board. Tech must have pulled 20 decks off their wall to let me get a feel for each one and gave advice on size and the latest features. Once I found my favorite deck the tech went through selecting trucks, bearing, wheels, and grip tape and put it all together for me on the spot. I’m such a newbie on the thing, but, no broken bones yet… Hoping to eventually advance enough to skate at Gabiral Park, West Linn, or maybe now the Steel Bridge…

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    maccoinnich February 16, 2019 at 12:25 am

    Something I haven’t heard discussed at all is that Multnomah County is actively studying options for replacing or retrofitting the Burnside Bridge, and all of the options being studied would, I assume, destroy the Burnside Skatepark.

    The Burnside Bridge has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 2012. I can’t find the nomination online, but I would certainly hope it talks about the Burnside Skatepark. If the nomination does describe it (or maybe even if it doesn’t, I’m not quite sure), the destruction of the Burnside Skatepark would constitute an adverse impact under Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act.

    That law requires public agencies to identify adverse impacts on historic resources, and find ways to avoid them, or mitigate them. Now, I’m not a skateboarder, but I would think that providing funding towards this skatepark would be a good way to mitigate the impacts to the Burnside Skatepark. It’s worth noting that agencies are allowed to do the mitigation in advance, so it may be in Multnomah County’s interest to provide funding soon, even if construction of the new Burnside Bridge is 10 or more years away.

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    Connect February 17, 2019 at 11:32 am

    Sickkk. And what all this about campers I go to skateparks all around Portland and I ain’t never had a problem with any “campers” or homeless getting in the way lol.

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    chris February 18, 2019 at 9:32 am

    What we need is a massive public pump track somewhere. (The one at Gateway Green is narrow and small.)

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    jered February 18, 2019 at 9:44 am

    During the first go-round on the Steel Bridge skatepark proposal I believe the NIMBY element in old town said something like: A skatepark would bring a “Bad Element” to old town. I guess times have changed – skateboarding is in the olympics, so we’re a good element now?

    ANYWAY. Stoked to see this back on the table!

    Next up : singletrack MTB trails in forest park.

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    Welsh Pete February 19, 2019 at 7:02 pm

    maccoinnich
    Something I haven’t heard discussed at all is that Multnomah County is actively studying options for replacing or retrofitting the Burnside Bridge, and all of the options being studied would, I assume, destroy the Burnside Skatepark.The Burnside Bridge has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 2012. I can’t find the nomination online, but I would certainly hope it talks about the Burnside Skatepark. If the nomination does describe it (or maybe even if it doesn’t, I’m not quite sure), the destruction of the Burnside Skatepark would constitute an adverse impact under Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act.That law requires public agencies to identify adverse impacts on historic resources, and find ways to avoid them, or mitigate them. Now, I’m not a skateboarder, but I would think that providing funding towards this skatepark would be a good way to mitigate the impacts to the Burnside Skatepark. It’s worth noting that agencies are allowed to do the mitigation in advance, so it may be in Multnomah County’s interest to provide funding soon, even if construction of the new Burnside Bridge is 10 or more years away.Recommended 2

    They’re working on it now. Apparently these fixes will keep it safe for another 15 to 20 years…

    https://www.facebook.com/Burnside-Skatepark-184772635689/

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