On a hot evening last July, a group of skateboarding advocates journeyed to the downtown Portland site they hope will one day be home to the halfpipes and ramps of the Steel Bridge Skatepark. Longtime Portland multimodal transportation advocate Ryan Hashagen roller-skated to the site while towing a wheelbarrow full of concrete, which skaters later laid down in a “ceremonial groundbreaking.”
Right now, the Old Town site where the skatepark would be located (a lot co-owned by the Portland Bureau of Transportation and Oregon Department of Transportation bordered by NW Naito Parkway, 1st Avenue, and Everett St) is an overgrown and neglected patch of grass in the shadow of the Steel Bridge. It’s not a spot most people would gravitate toward after a trip to the Saturday Market or a stroll along the riverfront.
This point was hammered home earlier this month when a fire broke out right near the site within the base of the Steel Bridge. It turns out that people had been living inside the bridge base for an indefinite amount of time — the fact that nobody noticed speaks to the derelict conditions in the area. Now there’s a sense among advocates and others that the skatepark could help activate the space in a positive way. (We reached out to Portland Fire & Rescue for comment on the fire and potential impact of the skatepark, but have yet to hear back.)
After delivering a well-received testimonial to Portland City Council back in September, skatepark boosters are doubling down on their requests for political support. Last week, pro-Steel Bridge Skatepark organizations wrote letters to Commissioner Dan Ryan (who now oversees the Portland Parks & Recreation bureau — asking him to direct Parks staff to provide project management and find funding for the skatepark.
Their work appears to be paying off: though it’s still early days, we have reports that Ryan’s office is taking the initial steps to make this happen. Though Parks funding is in flux right now, the bureau is looking for solutions to fund the $10 million skatepark.
The city’s economic and urban development agency, Prosper Portland, will grant $250,000 to the skatepark for preliminary engineering and design. This money comes from the Community Livability Grants Program under the Old Town Action Plan. Advocates hope will get the skateboard wheels turning while the bureau looks for the rest of the funds.
Because of silos in Portland city government, insiders worried inter-bureau divisions could interfere with progress, and they realized it would be crucial for the new PP&R bureau leader to cheerlead the skatepark to help it kick-flip over administrative obstacles. Luckily for supporters, it seems like Ryan is willing to be their guy.
Just to make sure, advocates have written Ryan’s office more testimony asking for his help. In a letter from transportation advocacy nonprofit The Street Trust, Planning and Programs Manager André Lightsey-Walker detailed requests to the commissioner for the park that he hopes will “serve as a nucleus for human connection” and a “place of community intersection, creativity, and personal growth.” These requests are as follows.
Push Movement, a Portland organization that promotes addiction recovery through skateboarding, also expressed their support for the project. Their letter puts a fine point on why access to public space is so important for building healthy communities and how these kinds of positive environments can have a ripple effect on everyone in the area.
“While the Steel Bridge Skatepark will be an incredible place to skate, in all seasons, it’s also designed for everyone in the neighborhood to enjoy, whether a skater or not. A genuine place for a diverse crowd to feel welcome. Its central location allows for people from everywhere to come and enjoy downtown Portland,” their letter to Ryan’s office states. “The revitalization of our community is needed now more than ever, and [the Steel Bridge Skatepark] is the perfect way to bring people back to spaces they know and love.”
In an email statement to BikePortland, Commissioner Ryan wrote: “I am eager to learn more about what might be possible in partnership with Prosper Portland, and current property owners PBOT and ODOT as well as community partners. I expect a briefing on this in the coming weeks.”
This is just one plan in the works right now to reinvigorate public space in downtown Portland. A few blocks southwest of the skate park site, the O’Bryant Square rehabilitation is underway thanks to the Portland Parks Foundation. Boosters for both of these projects are excited about the potential to reimagine what our central city looks like, offering more free spaces for people to safely enjoy all Portland has to offer.
According to Prosper Portland, we should have more information about the skatepark plan in April.