The Portland Development Commission and the city's Department of Transportation are working on a concept master plan for redeveloping a gateway for Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard where it meets Grand Avenue.
Neighborhood and community plans for the Albina and Eliot neigbhorhoods as well as past transportation analyses of MLK Boulevard dating back to the early 1990s have called for a gateway that not only commemorates Dr. King, but will also enhance the pedestrian environment, incorporate multicultural public art, and announce the entrance to a historic area of Portland.
The site includes two parcels bisected by NE Grand Ave: a triangular-shaped, approximately 15,500 square foot site bound by NE Schuyler Street, NE Hancock Street and NE Grand Avenue; and a smaller portion to the west. The main gateway will feature landscaping by local firm 2.ink Studio, graphics by The Felt Hat, and a sculpture by James Harrison. I'm particularly happy for Harrison after Portland Center Stage removed his wonderful light sculpture outside their entrance.
Harrison's sculpture for the MLK Gateway resembles a constellation of stars crossed with a basket. He calls it "weaving a basket out of the night sky...a beacon that announces arrival to the neighborhood. This story is about migration and arrival. It asks the questions, How did we get here? And, Where are we going? If your ancestors lived in the Northern Hemisphere, then they used the North Star to navigate. That is one thing many cultures have in common. Early humans streaming out of Africa, across the land bridge and into the Americas, using the Pole Star to orient themselves along the way." Or African-American slaves using the stars to guide their underground railroad escapes to freedom.
In addition, the Gateway project proposes to create and locate heritage markers at strategic locations along NE Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd. These heritage markers may honor individuals, cultural or historical events, or topics of significance to the inner northeast neighborhoods of Portland. This series of markers will link the corridor together and help enhance its identity.
My understanding is that PDC has the funds to create this master plan for the MLK Gateway, but not to actually build it. Chances are the agency's funds will remain tight for the forseeable future, although Sam Adams's election as mayor could help this and many other arts projects move forward.
In the meantime, why can't some local businesses in North and Northeast make some financial contributions to the project? Nike has a big outlet store on MLK just a few blocks from the proposed gateway. Adidas has its American headquarters on North Greeley Avenue. Then there's Kaiser-Permanente, Fred Meyer, and countless other institutions that could afford to contribute - and would themselves benefit as members of a beautified environment many of their employees pass every day.
Oh, and the MLK Gateway lies within the Oregon Convention Center Urban Renewal Area. If we're going to start robbing URAs for projects outside their borders, as has been proposed with Pearl District URA funds going to David Douglas High School, why not at least use some funds for a needy project like this that's already within a URA but lacks the cash to move forward? I have a dream that Dr. King and North/Northeast will eventually be so honored.
Meanwhile, PDC is seeking public comment on its website. Time to make your voice heard.