The trees and paths of St. Francis Park are about to give way to Portland's inexorable push toward density.
If all goes as planned, the unassuming private-public space that's sat on SE Stark Street between 11th and 12th Avenues for more than three decades may soon play host to nearly 150 apartments with ground floor storefronts—that standard of Portland infill.
"The reality is most of the time the park is empty," says Valerie Chapman, a pastoral administrator for St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church, which owns, and abuts, the park. "Its day has come and gone."
So St. Francis is in the process of selling the land to Catholic Charities, which hopes to install a massive development that would feature 144 apartment units—some of them affordable housing— and eight townhouses according to interviews and documents filed with the city. The land, according to the city records, is worth over $1 million.
"It’s a tremendous opportunity for the neighborhood, for the park itself, for what is now considered by many as a blight," said Pietro Ferrari, Catholic Charities' executive director, said last week. "Unfortunately, it just experienced deterioration."
The park at one time played host to kids who attended a school on the property. That shuttered in 1987, and with the schoolchildren went the park's energy, Chapman said.
"They didn’t keep coming down here any more," she said. "There weren’t more children to replace them."
In the intervening years, the park became more associated as a hangout for the homeless, who made daily trips to the St. Francis Dining Hall. Problems escalated to the point the city forced the park closed for a six-month period in 2003.
Crime doesn't appear to be a factor today. Police records show just two police reports filed from incidents at the park since 2010. Twenty-two reports originated there in 2002.
But the church needs money for upkeep, Chapman said.
"I love this park," she said. "It's never felt dangerous to me.