July 17, 2014

N/NE Portland’s beloved Dawson Park regains its place as a safe, well-lighted  community gathering spot.

A celebration on Wednesday, July 16, 2014 marked the completion of the Dawson Park Improvement Project, a $2.7 million restoration led by PDC and Portland Parks & Recreation (PPR), with key assistance from Legacy Emanuel Medical Center and the Portland Parks Foundation.

Acquired by the city of Portland in 1921 and named for Rev. John Dawson, an advocate for child welfare and civic improvements in the 1920s, Dawson Park has played a key role in Portland life. By the late 1940s, it functioned as an unofficial town square for the surrounding African American community. Over the following 30 years, the park was the epicenter of many political and social movements. Robert F. Kennedy spoke here. Civil rights marches began here.

But by 2007, the park had fallen into disrepair. A Dawson Master Plan, developed with the community, envisioned restoring it as a key community gathering space and prioritized a list of desired improvements, including the restoration of the Dawson Park Gazebo. In 2008, PDC used urban renewal funds to restore the 120-year-old cupola salvaged from the Hill Block Building—once a cornerstone of the old Albina commercial district.

After securing additional funding in 2011, PPR and PDC gathered input from area residents, community organizations and area churches on how park improvements could promote better use, create a more inviting feel for families, and highlight the park’s deep cultural and historical roots. The final park design by landscape architects 2.ink Studio reflected all of these elements. The newly-completed project added site improvements around the gazebo to make it a more functional performance space and provide ADA access.

Construction began in October 2013, managed by PDC to allow flexibility to optimize minority-certified contractor utilization on the project. In addition to honoring and remembering the history of the African American community in this area, one of PDC’s project goals was to ensure that the economic benefits of the development (jobs and investment) accrued to the minority community. Thanks to a new and innovative approach, the project achieved 83% minority workforce and 70% DBE contracting.

PDC’s Interstate Corridor Urban Renewal Area provided primary funding for the redevelopment; Legacy Emanuel Medical Center, in partnership with the non-profit Portland Parks Foundation, donated $200,000 toward the newly completed water feature. PP&R and Parks Commissioner Amanda Fritz, with advocacy from the Northeast Coalition of Neighbors (NECN) and the non-profit Harper’s Playground, funded upgraded playground surfacing for universal accessibility.

The striking boulders around the water space now memorialize the park’s key historic moments. The tree canopy has been painstakingly preserved to allow more sunlight and better lawn growth. With new barbecues, picnic tables, lighted pathways, a fully accessible playground – the neighborhood truly has the park it deserves.