The controversial proposal to remake the South Park Blocks in downtown Portland could be approved as soon as Wednesday.
The City Council is scheduled to take up the master plan again on the morning of July 21 after delaying a vote at the end of the July 15 hearing. Invited witnesses testified in support of the proposal. They included representatives of Native American communities. Public testimony was overwhelmingly against it, however.
During the hearing, Commissioner Carmen Rubio, who is in charge of Portland Parks & Recreation, and Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty voiced support for the proposal. Although Mayor Ted Wheeler, Commissioner Mingus Mapps and Commissioner Dan Ryan were noncommittal, it will pass if any of them vote for it.
The 132-page plan describes a decades-long remodel of the multiblock park that runs north from the Portland State University campus past some of the city's biggest cultural attractions. It would add new seating, art, plants and a multiuse path to the blocks. The work is estimated at up to $47 million. The multiuse path would be part of a six-mile "Green Loop" through the central city area for joggers, walkers and bikers that is estimated to cost an additional $7.4 million.
Portland Parks & Recreation says the plan is necessary to replace aging trees and accommodate a Portland population that is both increasing and growing more diverse. It seeks to "activate" the park by creating new spaces for community activities.
"As responsible stewards, we need to look ahead and equip our existing parks to serve the changing needs of a growing and changing Portland," said parks bureau director Adena Long in the plan's introduction. "This plan will serve as a critical guide to sustain and enhance the South Park Blocks for future generations."
Despite that, the plan has generated a strong backlash from some Portlanders who believe it will lead to the decimation of the treasured elms that line the park and ruin one of the few greenspaces downtown. It is opposed by the neighborhood association in and around the area, Most of the dozens of people who testified against it live downtown.
"Commissioners, you have many problems to solve and things that need fixing," said LaJune Thorson, a downtown resident for a decade. "This park is not one of them."
The proposed South Park Blocks Master Plan and additional information can be found here.
Oregon Public Broadcasting is a news partner of the Portland Tribune and contributed to this story.
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