Portland City Council on Wednesday joined Multnomah County in declaring Oct. 1 "Build Gateway Green Day"—putting a governmental stamp of approval on a partially crowd-funded, off-road cycling park situated between two Interstate highways.

It's the latest sign of public support for Gateway Green. But the new project in park-deficient East Portland first emerged from a real-estate developer who wanted more recreation near properties he owns in the Gateway neighborhood. 

Developer Ted Gilbert readily admits he stands to benefit from any economic growth the park spurs; he cites estimates that place the number of potential annual visitors to the park at 500,000 people.

"Full disclosure, I own real estate out there," says Gilbert. "My immediate interest was a self-interested one, but I came to believe this is an opportunity for the entire region.

"I envision it as an urban place that can accelerate urban growth," says Gilbert.

City officials say the project points to the power of grassroots efforts.

"It takes a local champion at a time of budget scarcity," said city commissioner Nick Fish as he lauded Gilbert and co-collaborator Linda Robinson, a parks activist and leader of the project. 

Over the past two decades, Portland Parks & Recreation has spent more money acquiring land in East Portland than anywhere else in the city. Excluding Forest Park's massive acreage, East Portland's parks account for 30 percent of Portland's total park area.

But in the wake of five consecutive years of PPR budget cuts, there's still an accessibility gap.

When Gilbert learned about 38 acres of unused land nestled between I-84 and I-205, he was intrigued. As a local realtor and member of the Gateway Program Advisory Committee, an urban renewal advisory group, Gilbert had grappled for years with what he calls East Portland's “perception problem.” 

A cold call to the Oregon Department of Transportation and eight years of collaboration with fellow GPAC member Robinson later, that piece of land is the future site of Gateway Green, a multi-use recreational park geared toward off-road bicyclists. The city of Portland agreed to purchase the parcel from ODOT for just under $20,000.

The city has also agreed to operate and maintain the park—it estimates an annual cost of about $198,000 that will come out of its discretionary general fund—after project backers collect the roughly $6 million needed to construct it.

Robinson and Gilbert plan to seek both public grants like Metro's Nature in Neighborhoods Capital Grant and private funds through large businesses like bike manufacturing firms. 

But to pay for a commissioned design that they will submit for grants, they're turning to a model that's more associated with edgy startups and indie bands than with civic projects: crowd-funding.

Friends of Gateway Green has launched a campaign on the online crowd-funding platform indiegogo to raise $100,000 from individual contributions. As of today, it has raised over $54,000 with just under two weeks left to meet its goal. 

Friends of Gateway Green is holding a community design workshop on Wednesday, October 2 from 4:00pm-7:00pm at the Gateway EcoDistrict Office (1111 NE 102nd Ave., Suite F). The public can talk directly with members of the design team and can contribute input on the concept plan.