KWA, Metro Parks seek community input on future of Portland Avenue Community Center

Korean Women’s Association has eyes on leasing Metro Parks Tacoma’s Portland Avenue Community Center to house its own programs as well as offer community programs through partnerships. File photo by Steve Dunkelberger

Korean Women’s Association wants to hear ideas, concerns and suggestions about its plans to lease the Portland Avenue Community Center that Metro Parks Tacoma will no longer need once the $31 million Eastside Community Center opens at First Creek Middle School two miles away later this year.

The Eastside center will house parks programs as well as those provided by the Boys and Girls Clubs of South Puget Sound and Tacoma Public Schools once it opens.

A public meeting on the future of the 7,400-square-foot Portland Avenue center the new facility replaces is scheduled for 6 to 7:30 p.m. on Aug. 16 at the facility, 3513 Portland Ave. Meeting attendees will hear about KWA’s plans for the facility as well as have an opportunity to voice their thoughts on what programs the center could add, either through the non-profit’s partnership with Tacoma Housing Authority, on its own or through other possible partnerships.

“Because we are serving the community, we will be providing what the community wants and not what they don’t want,” said KWA Executive Director Troy Christensen, noting that the plan is to operate the facility as a public center and not as a KWA-only location or for housing. “We think that is very important for people in the community to hear.”

The Pierce County-based nonprofit has offices or community facilities in 11 counties around the state and an annual budget of $40 million. Although the Portland Avenue location would be its largest community center, it would not be its first, since KWA also provides services at Lighthouse and Beacon Senior Centers, at its headquarters and at Salishan. 

The idea of KWA leasing the Portland Avenue site came earlier this year, when Metro Parks announced a Request for Proposals about the property as the new facility elsewhere on the Eastside began construction. Two other plans were considered, but only KWA received a nod from a review committee of parks employees and community members to flesh out its proposal with a community meeting. 

The parks district doesn’t have the money to operate both the Portland Avenue and the 55,000-square-foot Eastside facilities, which raised fears during public meetings on plans to surplus the facility that the property would simply be sold for housing or otherwise mean the loss of classes, programs and social services for people in the neighborhood. Among the priority needs neighbors hoped any arrangement could preserve were programs for children, seniors and disabled people, such as meals, activities and medical services. The KWA proposal would largely retain those programs by shifting their administration to the nonprofit instead of the parks district.

“This is a good compromise,” Christensen said. 

The parks board had already opted to continue operating 13 acres of park lands surrounding Portland Avenue Community Center for recreational use. The park space includes a picnic shelter, sports fields, a playground and restrooms.

Specific lease negotiations for the adjoining community center haven’t begun, however, and any deal would still face approval from the parks board. But KWA hopes a long-term lease would allow it to spend some $1 million on renovations to the facility, since it dates back to 1988. Plans could also add a commercial kitchen for events and to provide hot meals for seniors and people with limited incomes. Even longer-term plans could also add larger event spaces for community events and activities.

The center would basically operate through a similar arrangement Metro Parks has with the Asia Pacific Cultural Center, which occupies South Park Community Center and offers its own programs as well as partners with other nonprofits and agencies to provide others that would otherwise be provided by the parks district.

“Our goal at Portland Avenue is to serve more people and, based on community priorities, offer social services that we do not currently provide,” said Dave Lewis, Metro Parks deputy director of parks and recreation.

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