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Rainier Beach is in search of more sand.

Residents have been sprucing up the neighborhood with local artwork, and community leaders now want to turn vacant lots into parks. That includes creating a sandy beach along the waterfront just south of Beer Sheva Park.

It’s one of several plans to unify and re-energize a neighborhood perhaps known more for crime than community centers.

“We’re the gateway to the city,” said Gregory Davis, chairman of the Rainier Beach Community Empowerment Coalition, the umbrella organization spearheading a variety of initiatives to liven up the neighborhood. “We have this diversity … I refer to it kind of as a perfect storm for us.”

He means a good storm, one of opportunity.

As Rainier Beach High School eagerly awaits the elite International Baccalaureate program, and the area benefits from a new light-rail station and community center, residents have seized the opportunity to create some long-awaited changes.

Period of change

In the heart of Rainier Beach, small, concrete Haitian groceries and Halal shops with grated windows mix with a newer Safeway and Bartell Drugs.

Children gather outside the library on weekend mornings, but residents stay off the streets after dark.

This is a neighborhood in transition.

Some of the changes began in 2009, when a new light-rail station was built in Rainier Beach. Davis and his organization took the opportunity to update the neighborhood community plan.

As part of that change, the coalition is working with other groups to improve housing and transportation, create access to locally grown foods and beautify the neighborhood.

These community leaders are also joining with the Rainier Beach Community Club to create a park near the southern end of the neighborhood.

The idea is to transform a steep, trash-filled vacant lot jammed between a private home and a row of popular cafes and shops.

“We hope to attract people to the business district,” said Community Club vice president Su Harambe. “We want to get people out walking around, doing things in Rainier Beach.”

The family oriented Community Club has focused on improving pedestrian safety and hosting neighborhood events.

Another organization, Rainier Beach Moving Forward, led by David Sauvion, who is French, is pushing hard to add the new beach. Both the beach and park would need funding from the Seattle Department of Parks and Recreation.

The Empowerment Coalition, with Davis at the helm, has worked to unite these groups.

Although he lives in nearby Beacon Hill, Davis, originally from Compton, Calif., has been a Rainier Beach fixture for the past decade. He volunteers at the Emerald City Bible Fellowship in Rainier Beach and works on foster care for Casey Family Programs.

“David and (my) presence on the Rainier Beach Moving Forward steering committee, that’s an example of a coming together of cultures that historically may not have interacted,” Davis said.

Rebuilding waterfront

Efforts to create a new beach on the waterfront are a work in progress.

“The idea of the beach is, we’re trying to reclaim the waterfront for better use,” Sauvion said, adding that the beach will replace a parking lot that serves a nearby boat ramp used mostly by people from outside the community.

The organization applied for a grant through a Seattle Parks Department opportunity fund, which provides money for grass-roots efforts to create more community spaces.

Sauvion, however, still has to convince the department his project is worthwhile.

Some components don’t make sense, because they duplicate other efforts in the neighborhood, said Rick Nishi, parks and green spaces manager at the parks department. One of those efforts is the proposed park.

But Sauvion and Davis remain upbeat.

“I think this is the year,” Davis said. “There’s certain things that need to be put in place to serve as a catalyst for (our goals), and I think that they are now.”

Sarah Freishtat: 206-464-2373 or