TribTown • On downtown block, people to gather above, cars go below
by:  KATIE HARTLEY, Workers will break ground for a park this week on South Park Block Five, where construction of an underground parking garage has been the main activity. At ground level, the still-unnamed park will include a plaza, cafe, lighted glass canopy and water feature.

Think of it as Portland's den.

A block away from Pioneer Courthouse Square, long dubbed the city's living room, a planned lighted plaza and cafe soon will be the spot where moviegoers gather.

Anchoring new high-rise development on surrounding blocks and topping multiple layers of underground parking, the city's newest public park will start breaking ground - or rather filling it in - after a kickoff 10 a.m. Thursday.

Up until now, the spot bordered by Southwest Yamhill and Taylor streets and Ninth and Park avenues has been a bustle of subterranean construction while the parking garage being built below slowly climbed to street level.

Beth Sorenson, spokeswoman for Portland Parks and Recreation, said the next steps include putting a few layers of fill on the garage and beginning construction of the park on top.

She said designers want to set the park apart from the bustle on Broadway, aiming for 'more of a relaxed, quiet feel than the things that go on in Pioneer Square,' she said.

Though the kickoff for the future park is just days away and its design confirmed, the spot still doesn't have a name.

Half paid for through private donations, the $6.7 million park will get its name later this year when a still-anonymous $2 million donor steps forward, likely in the spring, and gets to name the park.

An approving nod still has to come via public process.

However, the look for the unnamed park, now referred to as South Park Block Five, already has been settled by a city committee and public hearings.

The park's main feature is a lighted glass canopy with seating beneath it, aimed at getting visitors outside in Portland's misty climes. Plans also call for an ankle-deep water feature at the park's northeast corner.

A cafe will anchor the southwest corner, where a soon-to-be selected tenant will serve food and drink.

'They would like it to be a cafe operator who is capable of serving meals from morning to evening and, for example, for the theater crowd, serving coffee and dessert after the theater,' said Eric Jacobson, a senior project coordinator for the Portland Development Commission.

The PDC manages the South Park Blocks Urban Renewal Area, and Jacobson is the lead on the new park project for the PDC.

The park land is owned by local developer Tom Moyer, whose company built the parking garage.

A proposal for a parking garage on the spot, which was privately owned and formerly a surface parking lot, raised hackles in Portland in the mid-1990s.

Moyer stepped up and bought the site for underground parking for two of his nearby projects, the Fox Tower at Broadway and Yamhill and Park Avenue West - a 33-story building planned for Southwest Ninth Avenue and Yamhill Street.

Moyer donated the surface rights to the city for a park, along with $1 million to develop it.

Moyer also donated the naming rights for the park to the city, which the Portland Parks Foundation used to leverage more donations.

The foundation then lured the anonymous donor, who plunked down $2 million to bridge the gap between Moyer's donation and $3.7 million in public money.

Jacobson said designers believe the park will blend in with nearby development, in part because the Fox Tower and Park Avenue West architects were included in the design process.

'We think it's an exciting time for this district. Good things have happened in the recent past, and there'll be a lot of activity in the future,' Jacobson said.

Other developments planned in the area around the park include improvements to the parking garage at Southwest 10th Avenue and Yamhill Street; upgrades to the studio arts building, which houses the Northwest Film Center's Guild Theatre; and a remodel of the Cornelius Hotel to the north.

The park's groundbreaking takes place in front of Flying Elephants Delicatessen at 10 a.m. Thursday and will include a few words from Moyer, along with parks Commissioner Dan Saltzman, Mayor Tom Potter and Former Mayor Vera Katz, who was instrumental in the park's planning.

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