New community center set to bring renewed investment to the Eastside

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The 55,000-square-foot Eastside Community Center, located on the campus of First Creek Middle School at Portland Avenue and East 56th Street, is projected to open late summer 2018. Photo courtesy of Metro Parks Tacoma

“Editor’s Note: The following is a revised and corrected version of the original story posted on Thursday, Feb. 1.”

In Tacoma’s eastside neighborhood there is a richness of cultural diversity, but unfortunately, no place to gather and celebrate that distinction. For years, disinvestment has either downsized or all together closed community assets.

Now, this history of disinvestment is going away thanks to myriad partner agencies joining Metro Parks Tacoma to build the new 55,000-square-foot Eastside Community Center, projected to open late summer 2018 at the intersection of Portland Avenue and East 56th Street on the campus of First Creek Middle School. Community partners are the Boys & Girls Clubs of South Puget Sound, Tacoma Public Schools, Tacoma Housing Authority, City of Tacoma, and Greater Metro Parks Foundation.

Various funding sources have contributed to the $31 million construction cost, including $10 million allocated from the 2014 voter-approved Metro Parks capital improvement bond; $5 million from the City of Tacoma; $3.7 million in grant funding from the Washington State Legislature; and $7 million from federal tax credits encouraging community investment.

The Eastside branch of the Boys & Girls Clubs of South Puget Sound will move its program into the center, enabling the organization to double its enrollment to more than 200 youth served daily.

“A really important part for us to remember is we’re not done fundraising,” said Hunter George, spokesman for Metro Parks Tacoma. “There are two sets of fundraising that we’re doing: one was construction of the building; the other is we’re creating a $7 million endowment to help guarantee the Boys and Girls Club programming inside the building.

“By having that endowment we’re able to pay for staffing and offer incredible low-cost of programming,” George said.

Greater Metro Parks Foundation is leading the fundraising campaign called Imagine Eastside. The foundation’s annual Because Parks Matter Luncheon at Hotel Murano on Feb. 28 will highlight the Eastside Community Center and ask attendees to help complete the fundraising in support of the $7 million endowment. Tickets to the fundraiser luncheon are $25. Registration is online at http://www.metroparksfoundation.org/events/.

The final construction cost contributions coming in from the state legislature of $3.7 million in its 2017-2019 construction budget brings happiness to Eastside resident Shalisa Hayes, whose son, Billy Ray Shirley III, was a victim of gun violence in 2011. His death prompted his mother and friends to organize Team Billy Ray to complete his dream of building a safe gathering place for youth.

“Billy Ray’s friends went with me to Olympia a few years ago to ask for help, and the Legislature brought in the first dollars to get this project started,” Hayes said in a written statement. “Now the Legislature has provided the final construction dollars so that we can build an amazing community center. Team Billy Ray thanks our local legislative delegation and Governor Inslee for stepping up and delivering for the community.”

Included in the community center will be a gymnasium; an indoor track; a community swimming pool to replace Metro Parks’ outdated Eastside Pool; a commercial-grade kitchen to provide a place for healthy eating and ethnic cooking classes; a sound-recording studio for youth to produce original music; and a cafe managed by Metronome Coffee.

George said some Eastside residents have contemplated the idea of growing vegetables in the community garden at nearby Swan Creek Park and preparing meals with those vegetables at the community center kitchen. George also said the kitchen has a huge potential to incubate food-based businesses to serve the community and possibly mitigate the Eastside’s “food desert” problem.

Since 2015, Metro Parks has conducted surveys and has heard from hundreds of people participating in community cafes voicing what they’d like their community center to look like. A project steering committee was formed to bring those ideas to fruition.

“This investment in the Eastside of Tacoma is a game changer that will improve lives for years to come,” said City Council Member Catherine Ushka, who is a member of the committee. “Imagine Eastside shows what we can accomplish when we all work together for the common good.”

Metro Parks seeks new tenant for Portland Avenue Community Center

In late January, Metro Parks issued a request for information to gather interest from an organization or organizations that would want to lease or purchase the Portland Avenue Community Center and facilitate community-based programs and services.

“The whole plan is to shift staff from the Portland Avenue Community Center and the Eastside Pool to the Eastside Community Center,” said Hunter George, spokesman for Metro Parks Tacoma. “We know there is interest. Now, we’re asking for (organizations) to put their interest in writing.”

Those organizations that are interested may call Dave Lewis, Metro Parks’ deputy director of parks and recreation, at (253) 305-1067 or email at DaveL@metroparks.com.

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