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Monday, September 26, 2005

On the wane

Downtown Portland's hit a rough patch. The Wild West gangster shootouts of last summer have not yet faded from memory, and last Friday's Business Journal further documents the decline with a story about parking. We're supposed to get all hot and bothered about Tom Moyer's little postage stamp park that's going to be built at SW Yamhill and Park -- as long as he gets to build 677 parking spaces underneath it. Meanwhile, operators of existing parking say that monthly customers are relatively few and far between.

And finally, civic leaders are acknowledging a significant part of the problem. They're euphemistically calling it a "rough element" that leaves behind the smell of pee:

Jones and other leaders hope proposed retail renovations around the nearby 10th and Yamhill facility will help even more. Critics have long maintained the garage, with its narrow enclosed walkways on Morrison and Yamhill streets, attracts a rough element.

Star Park, SmartPark's operator, and other interests want spruce-ups that would, among other improvements, seal-coat the stairwells, thereby helping to eliminate the urine smell that seeps into the structure's concrete.

I remember when the solution to these problems used to be this quaint commodity called police coverage. Ah, those were the days.

Retail downtown is hurting, corporations are moving their business headquarters out of the central city, and gas is $3 a gallon and climbing. In this climate, who needs another 700 parking spaces?

The Pearl District has sucked the life out of downtown, and it's putting a dent in NW 23rd Avenue, too. Imagine if all the retail and restaurant energy in the Pearl had been steered downtown -- what strength that would have created. Instead, shoppers and diners are being spread around to various different districts, with no apparent center. Downtown's being left to the panhandlers.

The city's raised parking rates at meters to $1.25 an hour, and rates at the SmartPark garages are going to follow suit after one more Christmas shopping season. Given the slacking off in car traffic, I suspect that revenues will only break even, and perhaps even decline, despite the rate increases. (SmartPark's revenues have been down over the last four years.)

And if you think it's depressed downtown now, wait until Meier & Frank is closed for renovation into a luxury hotel, and they start ripping up the transit mall for the upcoming, totally unnecessary, re-do. It's going to be even sketchier down there for a good long while.

Go by streetcar!

Comments (23)

The $64,000 question: how do you provide adequate services to local homeless while not putting out the welcome mat for homeless in other cities that are less hospitable?

You know something is wrong when homeless people all up the West Coast know that Portland is the place to come for services, while parents all up the West Coast know that Portland is the place to avoid if you want your kids to go to local public schools.

Pretty sad.

The problem should be pretty obvious, or at least I think so. Pioneer Courthouse Square is Portland's "outdoor living room." Big suprise the rest of downtown becomes Portland's "outdoor bathroom."

"Imagine if all the retail and restaurant energy in the Pearl had been steered downtown -- what strength that would have created." And who would have done the steering? And isn't such steering, or efforts at it, something you have routinely complained about in this blog. The Pearl wasn't steered into existence, and it hasn't sucked anything out of downtown that wasn't already going. And what's happening on N. Mississippi and NE Alberta is not a matter or steering or policy. Compared to almost any where Portland has done well; our city lives and grows and is fun (as you occaisonally concede) to live in and walk around. As for the homeless, less compassion and more police is definitely not the answer. If we could restore the level of service our community provided to the mentally ill 30 years ago we wouldn't have them standing on the freeway exits and panhandling on every corner downtown.

There's been massive steering, all right -- into the Pearl.

BTW, I agree that woefully ineffective mental health treatment is part of the problem. But it's the combination of the mentally ill and the anti-social that can make a walk around downtown such an unpleasant adventure.

I drove by the new Central City Concern PAHC program this morning at 7:30 and 40 - 50 people were queued up, waiting for their treatments, all as tidy as they could be, all sober and getting better. There are programs that work here - and programs which basically don't. We invest evenly in both. A couple of years ago the state decided it would SLOWLY begin to shift purchasing toward evidence-based treatments (versus those which are simply flibbertigibbet). Made sure it was SLOW.

PAHC is at

Those in the good programs know they've got a good thing - the counselors at PAHC are former clients. The program is sticky because its based in reality and death, jails and the madhouse are the alternatives.

It's in our best interest, as lovers of a great city, to invest in systems which work and to can the bureaucrats who pander and connive. CCC is a nonprofit, your contribution is tax-deductible.

The history of corruption is long, and vulgar.

See Doug Bates’ comment on Sunday at

...thereby helping to eliminate the urine smell that seeps into the structure's concrete...
I remember when the solution to these problems used to be this quaint commodity called police coverage. Ah, those were the days.

Yeah...but I also remember when there were places to pee. When we don't have public restrooms, we create a problem that tends to resolve itself unpleasantly.

Retail may or may not be suffering (small businesses always come and go), but there seems no shortage of folks downtown at night, and they're not all hanging out at Voodoo Donuts.

CCC is doing a great job with what it has.

You think that more police would stop transients from pissing in the alleyways? Really?

You think that more police would stop transients from pissing in the alleyways? Really?

Actually, yes. In the heart of downtown, in broad daylight, on the steps of the parking garages, yes.

If I owned a parking garage I wouldn't even allow Portland's "finest" to enter. I'd hire my own private security.

Downtown has been dying a slow death for six years. Jobs in the core are down from 110 thousand to 80 thousand in that time period. Large employers continue to flee the city and county. Meanwhile, the "wagon wheel" design of the Tri-Met system is mostly geared toward getting people downtown and back home again. Downtown retail and food and beverage is hanging on by the fingernails, but tearing everything up for the overhaul of the transit mall should pretty well finish them off.

The .com boom was still running six years ago, so that's not a particularly good time to compare against.

I'm not sure, but I don't think the bulk of the lost jobs had to do with internet endeavors. The Portland Business Alliance could probably give you good statistics, but I'm thinking of big headquarters... GP, LP, US Bank... etc.

If the market is working, there can't be a shortage of monthly parking users downtown. My monthly rate keeps going up, even though we've switched lots twice in the last two years to find cheaper rates.

I wonder how many of those large (non-internet related) corporations who have a significant downtown presence have hedged their bets in recent years by quietly investing in future development property away from the chaos? I know of at least one which has moved several hundred employees out to Washington County in recent years and has plenty of land to accommodate the rest.

Renee Mitchell's recent column hit it on the head - for too many working women Portland's downtown has become more than a little uncomfortable and they are communicating this to their employers.

But looking on the bright side, the desire of local planners to achieve a european city ambiance seems much closer these days - les urinateurs are thriving in Portland.

(1) The Problem: who do you blame? Vera? She led our city for this one aspect of that stewardship? Tom? PDC? Blame the citizens for lack of support to social services community? Dunno, Jack, it's your call...serving you a softball here(fingerpointing is all the rage in the big easy). Remember too, some folks who live on the street (sadly) like it that way, and resist any/all efforts to help them. Frustrating.

(2) The Solution: same fingerpointing applies..who's obligation is it - Tom Potter? PBA? Not taking action in and of itself. Let's play Elimina-Hero. See who's left to lead us out of this situation. But with all commentary aside, seriously speaking - who/what is the solution?

Here are seven quickies to solving some of the downtown people mess.

1. Remove all pay phones which can receive incoming calls.

2. Move Allied Methadone (over Rich's) out of downtown.

3. Give a recovery-oriented reward to police officers publicly in addiction recovery themselves.

4. Buy small print advertisements in the home town papers of convicted drug dealers, listing their name, the names of their home town family members, their crime, their picture, their school, whatever. Shame on you!

5. Develop downtown business strategy to identify, pursue and chase out streetcorner drug dealers. There's no excuse for 5th and Burnside, other than the local businesses have no outdoor presence and the police consider the principle "it's gonna happen somewhere." This is pre-broken-window thinking and stupid.

6. Not popular but enforce the "no sit" rule as needed. Not for our regular crazy people who live downtown and aren't harming anyone, or for political protesters who are entertaining, or for Street Roots vendors who deserve a break, but instead for the filthy wastrels who parade and jabber and beg and wander. If you like, pick a "safe zone" where anyone can sleep, camp, rest, whatever.

7. Properly fund AND MANAGE our city shelters. There are people who have been living at TPI for a decade. The staff there, juvenile and morally stunted, refuse to set limits or provide alternatives. The BOD there shortchanges the homeless as much as the city does by chronically under funding TPI and other smaller shelters.

I could go on, but, um, I've got my own blog to rant in.

Note also that the architects doing the work for PDC on the makeover of the 10th Ave Smart Park are suggesting that the MAX station be moved 2 blocks west in order to help revive the retail scene. Whatever happened to the idea that light rail is a so-called "catalyst for urban development", as the planners like to describe it.

Come to think of it, that site has light rail on 2 sides and the streetcar on a third. According to the theory, it should be a retail gold mine. Instead we've got Peterson's 24-hour quick mart catering to the transients.

John Charles

That makes the planned light rail transit mall insane.
Especially with the PDC, TriMet and Metro ushering it along with reckless abandonment.

It's too bad accountability has been effectively abolished just as traffic engineering has around here.

Otherwise some individuals would face some consequences what these agencies do.

To pay for this fancy new transit mall that nobody cares about (cause it's still gonna be full of drug dealers), they raise the meter rates and extend the hours till 7:00pm. The end result with the people that come visit me is they wait until after 7. Same with going out to dinner or whatever. So let's see, end result is less people pay for parking, which means city makes less money in the long run and business depending on evening traffic do less. Yeah, that's forward thinking.

The idea that the Pearl district sucked the life out of downtown seems to rest on some faulty logic. I don't think it's a zero sum game. In fact, I think the more people live in an area, the better the general real estate climate.

But I guess we can just try to stick the whole thing in amber, and see what happens then.

I don't think it's a zero sum game.

I do. Stagnant economy, high unemployment, population within the city limts declining, crime and homeless problems making ugly headlines on a regular basis -- hardly a time to give shoppers and diners a dozen more reasons not to go downtown. The numbers of restaurant meals sold and dollars spent in retail in Portland are not going up anywhere near fast enough to justify overbuilding retail in several new neighborhoods at once. And in case you haven't noticed, the creative geniuses in COP Planning insist on new retail on the ground floor of every junky condo box that's being slapped up anywhere in town. It's a witches' brew.


Listed below are links to weblogs that reference On the wane:

» Signs of A Recovery? from | Oregon
I was struck by Jack’s comments the other night - about how the Pearl sucking the life out of downtown. Today, when i was taking my daily turn through downtown, I circled Pioneer place, one block away. Here’s what I saw: There seem... [Read More]


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