On Thursday, May 18, the Metro Council committed to providing up to $10 million for three major parks and nature projects in the region, jumpstarting two Portland waterfront projects and a major conservation purchase. The grants are part of Metro’s $30 million large-scale community visions program pilot round, which voters approved when they voted yes on the 2019 parks and nature bond measure.
The projects include
- Up to $3.5 million for the purchase of a large forest tract by the Trust for Public Land and Oregon State University.
- Up to $7 million for OMSI, the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, the Columbia Inter-Tribal Fish Commission and Prosper Portland for construction of the waterfront education park in OMSI’s neighborhood on the Willamette River.
- Up to $5 million for Albina Vision Trust to work toward purchasing properties in the Albina District.
“The range of projects here is incredible,” Council President Lynn Peterson said. “If you want proof of what Metro 2040 has accomplished, it is the ability to take one dollar and make sure you are getting multiple outcomes.”
These will be the first projects to receive funding through the large-scale community visions program. Metro issued a solicitation for projects in 2022. Future rounds could begin as soon as this year.
Metro Council established the program to provide catalytic investments – essentially a big boost – for projects that increase access to nature for people across greater Portland or improve the resilience of the region’s urban natural areas.
“This brought back good memories of the visioning and scoping of the parks and nature bond,” said Metro Councilor Juan Carlos González. “A few of us had this crazy idea, what if we created a new fund within the parks and nature bond to do cool urban transformation projects. And here we are. It’s so beautiful to see the public policy process work.”
Like all other projects that receive bond funding, the large-scale community visions’ projects must be capital projects owned by a public agency, meaning a building, facility, property or large natural area restoration. The projects must also meet the racial equity, community engagement and climate resilience criteria set by the region’s voters when they approved the bond.
“The program is showing it has great potential for success. Each of these projects shows vision,” said Councilor Gerritt Rosenthal, adding that Metro staff worked closely with applicants to fine tune their proposals to meet the parks and nature bond criteria.
“I am extremely supportive of the three projects,” said Councilor Christine Lewis. “In particular, having two on the Willamette River, at the urban core is important. The Willamette is the gem of our region and if you are on the east side of the river in our city of Portland sometimes you don’t even know there is a river there.”
Several councilors noted that they want to see future grants go to projects outside of the urban core in downtown Portland.
“I agree, we need to focus on everything outside the core going forward. We have done a lot here, and we will continue doing a lot of good work here,” said Council President Peterson. She added, “I would encourage us to start early, start now. Encourage our regional partners to start think what potential there is for future rounds.”
The goal is to help realize projects that have a region-wide impact and meet the needs of communities who have historically been left out or harmed by government decisions. Albina Vision Trust’s project aims to do that. Albina was one of Portland’s Black neighborhoods. It was systematically broken up and turned into what is now the Rose Quarter and the industrial and tourism zone surrounding it. Metro’s Oregon Convention Center is one of the large structures built through this process.
Albina Vision Trust’s project includes a waterfront park complex that hopes to help bring community members to the Willamette River, offering one of the only connections to the east bank of the river. Community members have made it clear to Metro that access to water is at the top of the list of valued nature experiences. This isn’t the first time, Metro has supported the trust’s work. In 2019, Metro award a $375,000 grant to the trust through its 2040 planning and development program
“The Albina Waterfront Park is a regionally significant opportunity to reclaim and reconnect Portlanders on the east side to the river,” said Winta Yohannes, executive director of Albina Vision Trust. “There are Black Portlanders who remember the power of the river in their lives in Lower Albina. With support from Metro, we are able to create more of those joyful memories while increasing climate change resiliency and confronting historical injustices through intentional reinvestment.”
The large-scale community visions commitment is also the second time Metro has supported the OMSI District. In 2020, Metro awarded a 2040 planning and development grant to the City of Portland OMSI to support engagement efforts with tribal governments and Indigenous community members to restore the Indigenous community’s connects presence on the Willamette. The waterfront education park is just one part of a larger project that includes the Center for Tribal Nations, affordable housing and more.
“The Waterfront Education Park will give visitors the opportunity to see the Willamette River riparian area in the process of healing and introduce them to the deep connection the region’s tribes have to this place,” said Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission executive director Aja DeCoteau. “With a focus on restoring habitat, developing natural mitigation areas using Indigenous knowledge of watershed ecology, providing learning opportunities, and extending an invitation for all visitors to create a richer connection to this place, we hope the park will serve as a pilot program for urban river restoration that can be replicated throughout our region.”
“Metro’s large-scale community visions grant is a transformational first investment for the OMSI District,” said OMSI president and CEO Erin Graham. “We, along with our partners, have spent years planning and developing the vision of the OMSI District. With this support from Metro, we are now able to move closer to making that vision a reality. The Waterfront Education Park, which is being designed in collaboration with Tribal governments and Indigenous communities, will increase access to Portland’s riverfront, serve as a learning space for watershed management, and educate the community on the cultural significance and relevance of the river throughout time.”
Metro staff are now working with the project partners to refine the scope of each project to determine the exact amount of funding Metro will award each. The Metro Council decision to limit funding $10 million ensures funds will be available for future projects. With requests totally just shy of $19 million, Metro is also looking at other programs in the 2019 parks and nature bond measure as potential sources of funds for projects that align tightly with Metro’s own priorities and projects.
The Trust for Public Land and Oregon State University project provides an opportunity to conserve more than 3,000 acres in the North Tualatin Mountains, preserving land with critical ties to water quality, wildlife habitat, and forest research.
“The Tualatin Mountain Forest project has great potential to develop a research and demonstration forest with expanded climate and health benefits,” says Kristin Kovalik, the Trust for Public Lands Oregon program director. “At over 3,000 acres, and an established trail network, this site would provide an opportunity to combine sustainable forest management, urban youth education and workforce development, and improved recreational opportunities and access to nature for the local community. Metro’s investment is an important first step in moving this project forward and we are grateful for the partnerships helping to make this project a reality.”