Boathouse, track and more to be constructed on River Campus

By Rachel Ramirez | September 26, 2017 7:10pm

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Plans to develop UP's waterfront property known as River Campus are in the works.
by The Beacon / The Beacon

One day, below the bluff, along the shore of the Willamette River, rowers will climb into their boats and launch off a new dock at sunrise. This scene may feel far off, but it’s closer than one might think. The University of Portland will be the second university on the West Coast— after University of Washington-Seattle —  to have a boathouse on campus, when the boathouse is built. Pilot territory is expanding beyond The Bluff, and plans have been made to further develop the land below campus known as River Campus.

Nearly ten years after the University of Portland bought a 35-acre former industrial site in 2008, a development plan that includes three athletic fields, a boathouse and dock, a track, a tennis center, an environmental studies learning center and new Physical Plant headquarters is being launched into action. 

Despite it’s messy history including years of previous contamination and punk-filled memories, the former Superfund site — as declared by the  Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) — is about to transform into an intramural and recreational space for all students. 


Map of intended River Campus development. Courtesy of James Kuffner.
by Rachel Ramirez / The Beacon


“(The plan) would allow us to have more time and space for clubs and intramural spaces,” said Jim Ravelli, vice president of university operations. “What we’re trying to do is have a better connection with the river, and I think that’s a great thing for students both in terms of play and academics.”

According to Ravelli, the University is not allowed to build residence halls on River Campus due to the location being a former contaminated site.

They have yet to start construction, but even getting the project to this point was not easy. The University had to go through an extensive and convoluted process with several federal and state agencies such as the Department of Environmental Quality, Environmental Protection Agency, Division of State Lands, Natural Resources Defense Trustees and the City of Portland

According to James Kuffner, assistant vice president for community relations and special projects, the project recently passed the Greenway Review, the city’s requirements for public access, flood protection and potential impacts to the environment. The University is now awaiting the City’s review and permit approval for the building project plan, which Kuffner said he hopes to obtain in the coming weeks. Once the project permit is approved, at least one of the two fields will be built this fall.  

The two fields will be constructed side by side at the base of the bluff near Van Houten and Bluff Road — the road behind Corrado Hall. One will be a turf field, while the other will be grass. Both will also be equipped with stadium lights for evening games and activities. The third field will be in the center of the track. 

Vice President for Athletics Scott Leykam said the turf field will be installed first. They hope to get the two of the fields completed by summer of 2018, according to Ravelli. The fields will be predominantly for practices and intramurals, but will also be available as open space if not booked. According to Leykam, varsity competitions will not take place on either field. 


Samples for the new track that will soon be installed on River Campus.
by Rachel Ramirez / The Beacon


“The thing that would help with current and future student athletes is logistics,” Leykam said. “I feel for our track and rowing athletes now because they constantly have to go off campus for practices.” 

The University has not had a track in about 30 years.The men’s cross country team currently practices in Roosevelt High School. 

The rowing team also lacks on-campus facilities, and travels to Vancouver, Wash. before dawn almost every day to practice out of a boathouse on Vancouver Lake. Having a boathouse on River Campus, according to Leykam, will have a huge impact on the team. 

“The idea that we could have a boathouse and the rowing team practicing on campus has been a dream of mine and the university for a while,” Kuffner said. “We worked really hard for that.”

Athletes won’t be the only ones benefiting from developments on River Campus. Environmental studies students and ROTC will also be able to use the spaces below the bluff. 

Ravelli said he hopes construction will be well underway within the next year.

“Here’s where you keep your fingers crossed,” Kuffner said. “But it’s a leap of faith — a vision.”

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