Leach Botanical Garden earns funding for development plans
Metro grant, system development charges and a promise to match will fund key projects
New avenues of revenue have appeared in support of the Leach Botanical Garden, east of the Lents neighborhood.
At the end of December, the Metro Council awarded a $188,000 Nature in Neighborhoods grant to the iconic greenspace for the development of its new pollinator garden. The grant include a 2:1 match of $376,000 from Portland Parks Commissioner Amanda Fritz and Portland Parks & Recreation Director Mike Abbate from system development charges.
"The potential of this special place as an urban sanctuary is immense," Abbate said. "It will be a destination for science, for cultural enhancement, and for connecting people to both each other — and to nature in the city."
On top of that, strong fundraising efforts by the Leach Garden Friends have led Commissioner Fritz and Director Abbate to offer a challenge to the Leach Garden Friends. If they can raise a total of $1.26 million, PP&R will supplement the remaining $4.9 million to fund the entire project.
"I am grateful for the support from Metro, PDC and Leach Garden stakeholders," said Commissioner Fritz. "Fundraising by the non-profit Leach Garden Friends, additional SDC funds that I am committing as a match, and strong advocacy by the East Portland Action Plan and other east Portland grassroots supporters will help create a world-class botanical gem."
The Portland Development Commission (PDC) has already contributed nearly $2 million to the garden from the Lents Urban Renewal Area funds.
"PDC's investment in Leach reflects our commitment to provide high quality amenities to East Portland and expand opportunities for engagement with the diverse local community," said Kimberly Branam, executive director of the PDC. "The Leach Botanical Garden holds the potential for positive economic development impact, particularly in the Foster industrial area, by offering access to green and open spaces that enhances employers' ability to attract and retain talent."
The PDC's investment reflects the agency's commitment to provide high-quality amenities to East Portland, and expand opportunities for engagement with the diverse local community.
Challenges in funding parks
Leach Garden originally opened to the public in 1983 as a partnership between Leach Garden Friends and PP&R. Its core landmark is John and Lilla Leach's estate and manor house. The two went on botanical expeditions, building the house in the 1930s, and beginning the gardens. They left the grounds and 2,000 species of plants to the City of Portland.
In 1981, the Friends group formed as a nonprofit and have since anchored daily operations with a small staff and group of volunteers.
PP&R commits funding to new parks in communities without, and to expanding or enhancing existing parks that are at crossroads. In the past decades, PP&R operating funding has either been cut or remained flat, postponing rehabilitation and maintenance throughout the city. In 2014, voters passed the Parks Replacement Bond, but the to-do list is long and keeps growing — PP&R anticipates unfunded maintenance needs totaling $250 million and $472 million in additional, unfunded growth needs over the next 10 years.
Eight acres of the upper garden is undeveloped, and the new plans offer botanical and programmatic experiences to visitors, and connect to the historic garden and manor house along Johnson Creek.
The design intends that Leach become the signature public cultural attraction in East Portland.
The gateway to East Portland's buttes and near several other natural areas, the Leach Botanical Garden is a few blocks from the Springwater Corridor trail.
The development plans for the botanical garden include a network of pedestrian trails connecting the upper and lower gardens, a woodland hillside garden with an aerial tree walk, a pollinator garden, public gathering spaces for cultural and educational events, water-efficient landscaping and durable, diverse plants and materials.
"The master plan envisions creation of spectacular opportunities for economic development, educational recreation facilities, cultural amenities and community gatherings in park-deficient east Portland," Commissioner Fritz said. "Just as the Washington Park Rose Garden, Japanese Garden, and Lan Su Chinese Garden on the west side draw visitors from around the region and serve as attractions for tourists, I believe Leach has the potential to create a similar scale of excitement and interest as a unique and treasured park asset on the east side of the City."
The upper garden development plan, adopted in 2015, includes new facilities, botanical interpretations and community space.
Metro's grant is designated toward funding the new pollinator garden.
"Metro is pleased to help the improvements at Leach so that the garden can grow and continue to thrive as a place for beauty, relaxation and reflection," said Metro Councilor Shirley Craddick. "We know this vision was conceived when PP&R acquired the site more than 30 years ago, and it is exciting to know that at Nature in Neighborhoods grant can help the vision become a reality."
Metro's Nature in Neighborhoods capital grants have helped acquire land, restore habitats and streams, transform neighborhoods and promote equity. The grants support partnerships such as neighborhood groups, nonprofits and government agencies to boost access and improve nature.
The SDC funding, from PP&R, comes from one-time fees assessed on new developments, not the general fund tax dollars. By law, park SDCs are restricted to expanding capacity only, not for maintenance or the repair of existing facilities.
"Thanks to the City of Portland and Metro, we have the finish line for this catalytic project in sight," said Leach Garden Executive Director David Porter. "I look forward to robust fundraising efforts."
Construction is slated for 2018.