Catholic Sentinel photo by Clarice Keating
Partygoers enjoy the fountain during party at St. Francis Park Sunday.
Catholic Sentinel photo by Clarice Keating

Partygoers enjoy the fountain during party at St. Francis Park Sunday.

After owning and maintaining the small park at Southeast 12th Avenue and Stark Street in Southeast Portland for 45 years, St. Francis Parish is selling the property.

In a partnership with the public housing agency Home Forward, Catholic Charities has purchased the one-acre piece of land with plans to develop affordable housing.

Valerie Chapman, pastoral associate at St. Francis Parish, said they have been working for more than a decade to find the “right buyer.”

“As a parish we’re feeling really good about the sale; [the project] is going to be something we care about, not just market rate housing at the max price,” she said.

On Sunday, community members gathered for a celebration of the park’s history, which goes back more than 40 years when the land adjacent to St. Francis Church and School was transformed into a playground and natural area by local residents, artists, architects and schoolchildren.

Proceeds from the sale will fund improvements to church buildings and support ongoing parish missions, Chapman said.

“We’re the oldest parish on the eastside of Portland,” she said. “We have buildings that are over 100 years old.”

According to Trell Anderson, director of housing and community development at Catholic Charities, the project will include 102 low-income housing units, program space and common areas. A quarter of the units will be dedicated to women who are homeless or who are escaping domestic violence.

Anderson said the sale price was "just shy" of $2 million.

“It’s been a pleasure to work with the parish and their members, we really appreciate their commitment to the mission of Catholic Charities and their vision for the property,” Anderson said. “It’s a great synchronizing of values, mission and faith and I think we can turn out some really great projects.”

MWA Architects and O'Neill/Walsh Community Builders have been chosen for the project as architect and general contractor, respectively.

In the late 1960s and early ‘70s, architects Bruce Bodine and Michael Whitmore designed the park, and sculptor Bruce West created a cubist-shaped fountain and concrete riverbed that circulated water from a windmill, attached to a decommissioned navy battleship mast, which still remains as a neighborhood landmark. A small stage and community garden were also added.

For years, the park has served as a neighborhood gathering place, with summer youth programs, street dances and social events. The park’s history hasn’t been entirely sunny; it had to be closed briefly in 2002 due to problems with crime.