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Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Does Portland really need a Hard Rock Cafe?

That's basically what Paul Allen is looking at with his Rose Quarter "entertainment district." The taxpayers go broke, and wind up bringing in some Olive Gardens, TGI Fridays... and hey, maybe the Salem bobbleheads will even let them go for a casino.

A fellow over at the O (who's done the homework) gets it exactly right:

Let's assume that the entertainment district is built. Here are two possible outcomes:

1. It's a failure, and the city is left holding the bag for whatever bonds it has sold to finance its contribution to the district. (Kansas City, for example, had to pony up $4.7 million this year when its Cordish entertainment district -- much larger than the Rose Quarter project, in fairness -- didn't meet projections, and it's estimating another $7.2 million shortfall next year, according to the Kansas City Star.)

2. It's a success, but it impoverishes existing local bars, clubs and restaurants, or at least diminishes their ability to fill the margarita gap themselves.

The city loses either way. We lose our investment in the district. Or we hurt businesses outside the district, which pay taxes and contribute to the cultural vitality of the city.

No kidding. In Kansas City, the Cordish beast has killed off many of the local joints. It's big-box, chain retail. Just another mall, with bands and booze. Not Portland at all. So let's not go for it, folks.

Comments (30)

This is a very important point. From one person's anecdotal perspective, the food and beverage business in our community (and probably others, too) is a zero-sum game: no new restaurant or bar expands the market, and they just take business from the others. That's competition, and it's fine, up to a point, but you can see Hard Rock, TGI, Olive Garden and their ilk as the Wal-Marts of the restaurant business.

2. It's a success, but it impoverishes existing local bars, clubs and restaurants, or at least diminishes their ability to fill the margarita gap themselves.

I spend a lot of time at the Rose Garden, and I have to respectfully ask "what bars, clubs and restaurants"? That is exactly what has been cited as one of the reasons for the failure of the Rose Quarter concept...that there is NOTHING else there, nor is there anything near there.

A TGI Friday may not be the answer, but if it is added to the Rose Quarter, it's not going to hurt Red Robin a half-mile...and a tough walk...away.

If you want to see the grand daddy of public private mixed-use entertainment district failures check out SportCity Dubai. I read in the O that Portland planners have been helpful over in Dubai. No wonder that place is facing bankruptcy now.

Folks in Bedford Falls had better wake up before they find themselves living in Potterville.

Here is the money line:

"The point of cities is multiplicity of choice," Jacobs wrote. Portland's great, small, homegrown businesses and artists have given us a multiplicity of choices and possibilities. We should be figuring out ways to feed them, not siphon money away from them into homogenous entertainment districts.

This has been my concern all along. The city council acts like there is a big segment of the population that is pinned in their homes waiting for an entertainment district at the Rose Quarter to be built so they can finally come out and spend some money.

The truth is these people don't stay home - they spend their entertainment dollar somewhere else in the city - often at a place that does not rely on government subsidy for its existence.

If this flaw in thinking is pointed out to the pols, they go "international prestige" on you. For example, the ridiculous notion that people from other countries would visit Portland solely because they are drawn by the tram. I wish I was kidding, but I'm not. The tram was compared to the Eiffel Tower.

The big question is what happens when these rosy predictions don't pan out?

The only conclusion I can reach is that the council doesn't really care. They get their glow from the vision - witnessing it come into the world. What occurs next is of no concern because they're already moving on. If anything they probably feel a little superior when the masses don't go along and make these schemes economically viable. We don't envision things as brilliantly as they do so of course we don't get it.

Then they switch into George W. mode where sometime, in the decades to come, all this will seem like a great notion.

The Nines Hotel is the best example, because the council has already shed what's happening there and moved to the next hotel.
There's no regret because ultimately things don't have to make sense. They just have to glow for a while.

It's more like an impression of what a city could be like than anything based on hard facts.

This could be why a new Sellwood Bridge isn't a big deal to many politicians. All it would do is replace a bridge that already exists before the old one can collapse and kill a bunch of Portland citizens.

There's no visionary glow from that. That's just good government. How boring.

Some may have forgotten that the RoseQuarter had a TGI Fridays Front Row sports restaurant and bar. It was only busy during MAJOR event nights, any other night it was a morgue. I think it lasted about 4 yrs. The orthopedic clinic is at that location now.

The local Hooters franchise owner had to close one of his restaurants because of lack of demand. Do they seriously think more crap restaurants with high prices are needed here?

And when will we get a Dave & Buster's dammit?!?

What could possibly be wrong with a Hard Rock Cafe? Who doesn't enjoy mega-loud music, overpriced mediocre food, crappy service, and a chance to get really close to a knock-off Fender guitar signed by Journey? Gives me the "Randy Rumbles"!

After watching the Blazers I probably won't be going out for dinner (late for an old guy like me). If I want to stop for a bite there are lots of good restaurants on my way home. I would never go to any of the franchise outfits by choice. I am a Portlander and proud of it. Rather than a Hooters at the Rose Garden, how about an Acropolis? I understand they have great steaks!

Now if it were a Hard Rock Hotel, w/ Vegas style weather and pool scenery, then I would say: where do I sign up. Another crappy restaurant, no thanks.

This concept may work well for cities like Louisville, KY, which funded 4th Street Live (also with a Hard Rock Cafe). But city center in Louisville effectively had no downtown restaurants or bars and was dead after 6pm.

Portland though has a robust restaurant and bar economy in many sectors of the city, and this is truly what makes PDX "weird."

I'll echo what I said there:

If you are telling me that a bunch of wonks in City Hall who read all the same design magazines and have their hangers-on tell them how smart they are will spend OPM (our tax dollars) and build something people want, I'd disagree.

Look at all the gathering places we have now:
- SE Hawthorne
- NW 23rd
- N Mississippi
- NE Alberta
All without tax subsidy.

If you want to include the Pearl, first look at what they charge for rent there compared to these areas. Then look at the pre-dominant experience (outside of Powell's) - a lot of franchise cookie-cutter stores like Adidas/PotteryBarnclones/PFChangs/Henry's

Entertainment districts happen best without planning. If our local politicians would stick to their knitting and work on good roads/schools/police and reasonable utility costs instead of playing SIM city, we'd be better off.

If our local politicians would stick to their knitting and work on good roads/schools/police and reasonable utility costs instead of playing SIM city, we'd be better off.

Great post Steve!!!

The basics of why we elect these people, and 1000 percent what Sam and Randy care less about.

Please check Jack's recall counter, maybe we will get just the basics back soon.

If our local politicians would stick to their knitting and work on good roads/schools/police and reasonable utility costs instead of playing SIM city, we'd be better off.

Exactly right.

Steve nails it. Post of the Day! For that, you get a free, one-way ticket to ride the OHSU Tram (downhill segment only) and an all-you-can-eat pasta dinner from the Olive Garden.

I'm not opposed to public involvement in needed infrastructure products.

But a TGI Friday's? Or any other restaurant?

That's the sort of thing that public money or property ought not be involved in. (I've no objection to a restaurant chain leasing space from the city, but it should be on similar terms that they would get from a private landlord...)

Compare Ted Wheeler (worrying about the Sellwood Bridge falling down), with the Mayor and City Council (worrying about bringing TGIF's and major league soccer to town, during a recession no less!).

It's absolutely crazy, and I think the irresponsibility is starting to sink in with voters.

We deserve more common-sense government.

Good comments. The national chains of all kinds just take money OUT of the local economies, diminishing local businesses large and small. What the pols seem to disregard is that when that happens the local tax base is also lost.

I envision a time thirty or forty years in the future when the children of the McMenamins buy up the long-neglected remnants of the Rose Quarter for pennies on the dollar and do their rehab magic, turning it into the world's largest brewpub/concert/sports facility.

I hope not, Darrel. If so, then the food and beer would only be marginally better than it is now. I'm just sayin'.

Or maybe we should promote our own local chain and make this very PDX. McMenamins is into restoring old buildings, perhaps we can now have McMenamins Colleseum with outdoor seating, beer gardins, 9 hole golf around the rose quarter, a glass blowing exhibit, and outdoor movies in the summer.

McMenamins ???? They have the worst service ever !!!

Ironically, this district was the epicenter for a fantastic night life for the first decade after the war. And we all know how it met its demise, don't we?

What you see at the Rose Garden area is exactly what the economists' studies predict -- a dead zone because there's no "there" there, just an occasional temporary influx of people who come to the major event entertainment and then go home. But, the pols don't want to be bothered with boring old reality. Of course, there's always another sweet talker with his hand out to blow them up with another fantasy -- achievable only with another huge disbursement of the public's dollars.

Of course if the follow the link you'll see that it provides mixed support for Jack's claims at best.

The comments section on the first link mention that bars open and close all the time and attributing all closing to the P&L district is wrong. The second one lists a bunch of reopenings along with the closings.

Scroll down here and you'll find someone who also thinks Wal-Marts are good for local business. And hey, what's a little sex abuse with a teenage boy, anyway?

Will the bathrooms be spacious?

Larry and Fonzi, I don't mean to hold the McMenamins up as some fantastic standard of quality and service, but what the hell? It was, after all, a joke about how they've taken over a series of decaying properties and turned them into something relatively successful, not whether they would be servicing your gastronomical needs some decades hence.

A while back, when Paul Allen was selling the Blazers, I wished that the McMenamins would buy them.

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