The air was warm as the junior varsity soccer teams for Gresham's Barlow High School and Grant High School dueled for the win on the brand new turf field at Lents Park on Thursday.
Aanii Tate, of Grant High School, was celebrating her team's victory, sweat on her face glistening in the late afternoon sun, when she said she was happy with the upgrade because it offers better play than a grass field.
"It was really nice — I prefer it over the grass. Grass can be unpredictable and the turf is nice and dry," Tate, 15, said.
Indeed, prior to the turf, there was an often-untamed large grass field that at times was unusable because of rain and mud. Officials expect turf will see more use, and cut down on maintenance costs.
"Even though it's not grass, it's providing more to the community," said Cora Potter, Lents Neighborhood Association land use chair. She said that lighting will allow for later play, and that there are plans to plant more trees around the park. Additionally, they're seeking community input for a new gazebo for Lents Park, one of the city's largest at 38 acres. Some neighbors were upset when a bandstand had to be removed for the turf field project.
That squishy turf field Tate and her team just dominated on was a $2 million field completely donated by Under Armour, the Baltimore, Maryland-based sportswear company that's trying to solidify its footing in Portland — the shoe industry mecca.
"We're excited to be here in the Portland area ... it's where the talent for footware is," Marissa Ellberger, a representative for Under Armour, said at the grand opening event for the field. "We're trying to bring more footwear out here — not necessarily all of it, but we're definitely trying to get a bigger stake in it."
She said the company, which plans to open an office on Southwest Barbur Boulevard downtown, eventually might bring other "categories here as our presence grows — like outdoor apparel."
The company has a partnership with the city, and the two entities also worked together on a track and field project at Duniway Park in Southwest Portland.
The project at Lents Park is just a piece of a larger package of improvements, including the Lents playground, which is projected to open in a couple of weeks; ADA (American Disabilities Act) improvements; and the completion of Portland Pickles' Walker Stadium last summer. The $68 million Parks Replacement Bond, approved by voters in 2014, paid for the new playground and ADA improvements.
Some neighbors have been celebrating the park upgrades, since the area had often been a site for homeless people to sleep or frequent public restrooms to use drugs. RVs with people living in them also often congregated around the park until the city installed no parking signs earlier this year.
At the Thursday ceremony, parks Commissioner Amanda Fritz said that to date, they have dedicated more than $41 million to projects in East Portland — an area long neglected compared to other parts of the city.
"The sad part is it doesn't go very near at all to correcting the imbalances in the community," Fritz said. "Everyone should be within walking distance of a natural area, everyone should be within walking distance of a developed park like this. This is well on the way to becoming one of the jewels of the crown of the Portland Parks & Recreation system."