Iconic Portland skate park on the front lines of gentrification

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Portland, Oregon  Burnside skate park

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By Christopher Booker and Connie Kargo

CHRISTOPHER BOOKER: Underneath Portland, Oregon’s Burnside Bridge is one of the nation’s meccas for skateboarding.

What started 26 years ago, this “do it yourself” concrete skatepark has become part of the Portland lore. It’s included in many Portland travel guides, regularly appears in advertisements and was featured in a best selling video game franchise.

BURKE MORRIS: The first little bit of concrete was poured on Halloween 1990.

Burke Morris sits on the Burnside skatepark’s board of directors.

BURKE MORRIS: Burnside is the birth of the DIY skatepark movement. Since all the skateparks in the ’70s closed down, almost all of them, there was a rebirth in the ’90s largely due to here.

CHRISTOPHER BOOKER: All of this started without knowledge, sanction, or financial assistance from the city.

And that very first pour was, was where?

BURKE MORRIS: Just the back wall back there. Two little, one little piece, and then another little piece. Then on from there.

CHRISTOPHER BOOKER: It’s evolved into– to this.

BURKE MORRIS: Yeah.

CHRISTOPHER BOOKER: While Burnside grew out of a long-neglected corner of Portland, in a city undergoing rapid transformation, what has become a subculture cornerstone is under pressure.

We hear this all the time in Brooklyn. We hear about it in Austin and places like that, places that have real unique identities and spaces.

BURKE MORRIS: Well, it’s kind of a weird situation spaces like Burnside and spaces of made by the artistic creative community are often the forefront, the first step of gentrification and I personally am very aware of that. I see that Burnside came into the neighborhood, cleaned it up, but it remained an industrial neighborhood up until recently. And that’s about to change, along with much of Portland. We’re just trying to hold onto what we have at this point.

CHRISTOPHER BOOKER: Now looming above gritty Burnside, a sleek, new modern living space and a sign of changing city.

Known simply as “Yard” the 284 luxury apartment rentals are advertised as a place where friends gather to unwind, exchange ideas and make new connections. There is parking for electric cars, its fitted with an eco-friendly roof and each apartment will have a bike rack.

But developer Jeff Pickhardt says, the plan for this new living space, always envisioned a peaceful coexistence with Burnside.

JEFF PICKHARDT: When we bought the lot, we had to have a conversation about scaling the skate park back, and then, what happens when the building goes up and how do we phase the skate park back in? So initially a bit- contentious. We wanted to tread lightly on the work that they had done. You know, they’ve been here for 25 years and we’re the new guys on the block.I mean, 25 years ago, imagine this place. It was it was blighted 25 years ago.

CHRISTOPHER BOOKER: The mixed use residential tower is another turn in Portland’s move from its industrial past to 21st century hipster haven, another chapter in this city’s redevelopment.

During the past three years, United Van Lines reports moving more people to Oregon than any other state in the country.

At the same time, Portland rents have been experiencing the highest percentage growth rates among the nation’s top 50 housing markets.

People are moving here en masse. There are cranes in the sky everywhere. Where does this little tiny bit of real estate fit within what’s happening here?

JEFF PICKHARDT: Yeah, I think the interest in Portland right now is the authenticity, and I think the skate park is authenticity sort of at the max. And for people to come in and do this work without a permit originally, and create what they’ve created and have it stand the test of time, it says a lot. And it says a lot about a community that’s willing to go along with that too.

CHRISTOPHER BOOKER: With the arrival of Yard, Burnside did not lose any square footage of the skatepark, but they did lose some sunlight. In return, the developer agreed to install lights in the park to compensate for the light lost by the high-rise.

BURKE MORRIS: But Jeff has worked with us to a large degree. And we’re thankful of that. It could be a lot worse. That being said, I’m still, nothing’s set in concrete, if you forgive the pun until it’s there, you know? So we’ll, you know.

CHRISTOPHER BOOKER: Jeff said he thinks you guys, what you have built is far more culturally important than a building. Do you agree with that?

BURKE MORRIS: It’s hard to convey the importance of Burnside to anyone in the non-skateboard world. But it’s incredibly important worldwide.

CHRISTOPHER BOOKER: And you did it yourselves?

BURKE MORRIS: Yeah, and it’s our spot. We continue to build.”

CHRISTOPHER BOOKER: Tenants began moving into Yard this past July, and soon after a spa and wellness club opened it doors. According to the building, a restaurant is set to open next year selling a new “Burnside burger”, of which partial proceeds, will to go to the skatepark.

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