Portland Avenue center to remain neighborhood service hub under KWA lease

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The Korean Women’s Association is fast tracking renovations and program development at the Portland Avenue Community Center, which it will lease from Metro Parks Tacoma for the foreseeable future.

KWA has taken over the management of the building and pledges to spend up to $1 million in tenant improvements and program staff that will continue or expand programs and services at the 9,500-square-foot building, at 3513 Portland Ave.

The 50-year lease avoids the alternate future of the building – its sale and redevelopment now that Metro Parks has shifted its resources to the new, 55,000-square-foot Eastside Community Center one and a half miles away. The building had been up for sale, but community outcry about fears of losing the center paused those plans that then led to a call for proposals earlier this year to lease out the center on the condition that community services would continue there.

KWA answered the call and negotiated a long-term lease to do just that.

“We weren’t looking for a new place,” KWA’s Executive Director Troy Christensen said, noting that the nonprofit has deep roots in the Eastside, so the Portland Avenue center became a project of opportunity the agency couldn’t overlook. “We have an opportunity to invest here, in our own community.”

KWA is a Tacoma-based nonprofit with 1,400 employees that offers programs in 11 counties in Western Washington. Locally, the agency operates the Lighthouse and Beacon Senior Centers as well as provides senior wellness and senior meals five days a week at various locations around Pierce County. It also operates a domestic violence shelter, 200 affordable housing units and numerous multiethnic, multicultural services. The Portland Avenue site will offer those services as well as youth programs through yet-to-be-determined partnerships. A community advisory board will help determine the specifics of the social services and recreational programs at the center.

“This is a community center, so the community has to be at the forefront of what we do and to hold us accountable,” Christensen said. “We really want this to be a true community center.”

KWA has immediately set out to expand and upgrade the center’s kitchen, so it can expand the senior meal service beyond what was offered under Metro Parks. Other known programs in the works include staff to assist people with accessing medical, food and housing benefits, as well as provide support services, including a domestic violence advocate. The center will also provide meeting spaces for community groups, job fairs and possibly a mobile food bank.

“This agreement represents another major investment on Tacoma’s Eastside,” said Park Board President Andrea Smith in a release announcing the agreement. “We just opened Eastside Community Center, and now this agreement with KWA will offer expanded services in a renovated building. KWA has served the community for a long time, and I am excited that Metro Parks can offer an agreement for use of this space.”

While the lease spans several decades, it also includes annual reviews of the programs KWA will offer and a termination clause that allows Metro Parks or KWA to end the arrangement with one year’s notice if community services aren’t met or conditions otherwise change. The lease also prohibits the use of the property for housing or any expansion of the building as well as a six-month check-in that will allow Metro Parks to ensure community needs are being met.

“The community wanted Metro Parks to preserve green space, and so they did. The community has a list of needs, and KWA is ready to address them,” said Tacoma City Councilmember Catherine Ushka in the release. She is an Eastside resident who also served as a member of the project review panel. “It’s important for everyone to know that this agreement makes listening to the community part of the contract.”

The lease also will be limited to the footprint of the building, while Metro Parks will continue to maintain the nearby sports fields, picnic areas and wading pool. The parks district, for its part, is embarking on a master plan of sorts for the future of those amenities. That process will also involve substantial community discussions. One likely change is to convert the aging wading pool into some sort of spray park, like those found at Titlow and Wright parks, but that would come years from now if the community endorses the change and funding is found.

“I can’t say anything will happen soon,” Metro Parks Tacoma Deputy Director of Parks & Recreation Dave Lewis said.

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