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Monday, April 18, 2011

Lights keep going out in downtown Portland

A reader downtown writes:

More businesses are closing up.

Today is the last day for the Williams and Sonoma store.

Carl Greve is having a 20%-to-60%-off sale. My very reliable sources told me today that a professional liquidator has been brought in and the merchandise may not be of the quality that Greve's would have sold in the past. No one knows how long the liquidation will last.

There are now more empty storefronts around "Portland's living room" than there are viable businesses. I wonder how long Nordstrom's will stay?

But the SamRand twins will just keep hiking up the rates and employing more minions to collect the money. Does it not occur to them that the ratepayers are leaving?!

On the bright side... it sure is easy to find a place to park, at $1.60 an hour.

All together now: Go by streetcar!

Comments (44)

I saw the commercial about Carl Greve's 20-to-60% of sale last night and thought the same thing - they must be in big trouble. But no, this is a "once in a lifetime opportunity!" Yeah, no thanks.

A Streetcar to the Wasteland!"
...a new play by a child molester and a fireman, both relative unknowns until being elected to public office under false pretenses, in a small western city...
Sorry, my Dorothy Parker imitation seems to be failing.

There are more empty storefronts in the Pearl this month, too. Why aren't all the rich people busy opening new businesses and hiring people, like they're supposed to? ...Could it be that it doesn't actually work that way?

Eddie Bauer store left the Pearl.

Wonder what will happen to the Pearl tax abated housing when that ends, or will our city just renew it?

If Nordstroms or Macy's leaves, the rest will be a line of dominoes.

The city is hopeless to get their head around such a problem. They really only have a couple tricks in their bag: build transit, and subsidize private development.

In both cases, the hope is that these "investments" will lead to private real estate development. Everyone in the mainstream nods that this is a good outcome for some reason.

But why? Why is more real estate development an inherently good thing?

If these storefronts are going vacant downtown, why is building more commercial space a good thing?

If Downtown is struggling, why is creating a whole new "town center" in the South Waterfront, filled with new retail and employment space, a good idea? Hasn't the Pearl already cannibalized Downtown's employment and commerce?

A couple more trips to Spain, Germany and Denmark for Hizzoner should take care of all that.

EH is absolutely right about the Pearl loosing its luster.
There are several strings of store fronts that are vacant, and there are lots of restaurant turnovers and closings as well. Even Al Solheim has one of his building for sale according to last week's Biz Journal.
I guess the SamRand twins will just have to employ the bike creatives to collect the fees which won't be paid, then the food carts can move in next to the foreclosed and vacant condos and hope for the best.
The rest of us can sign up for space at the Hobo Belagio.

Think a few lights went out in the heads that prevail down at city hall.
Add it all up around here and things are getting far more serious, all the more reason to be prudent instead of spending more and/or arranging more perks.

I'd agree that the Pearl has cannibalized downtown somewhat. Williams Sonoma is moving the kitchen store in w/ their home store on 23rd.

As for Saks, it was never a good fit for Portland. If Nordstom left, that'd really be something. Can't imagine that happening...yet.

Snards, just take a longer view. The first big deal I saw was the Galleria back in the mid to late 70s. That was the big deal shopping of its time. Then there was the 3rd and Alder development deal. Then there was the Pioneer Place Mall development. And then and then and then..... This city seems to be always on to the next "big thing". And each one tries to obsolete the last one. Not very sustainable.

Look at the bright side...

Just think how many bicycle shops, bicycle helmet shops, bicycle accessory shops, bicycle clothing shops, etc. can go in now! Portland will be the world shopping destination for all things related to bicycles! And if Macy's emptied out, just think of all the floors and the possibilities... indoor velodrome, 5-star bicycle themed hotel...

And with mandatory curbside composting, the norway rat population will explode, generation endless opportunities for humane rat relocation businesses to sprout up like weeds!

And what about those bioswales? Will we see a surge in mosquitos in summer months? There could be new business opportunities for mosquito net suppliers and bioswale rejuvenators.

It's a new world folks! Like they say, when one door closes, another one opens!

*sigh* An ex-girlfriend of mine worked as an ER nurse for years, and she's very fond of talking about Some Guy. Some Guy is notorious among emergency medical techs, and they'd all shoot him in the face it they could. He's the guy that comes up to people who were just minding their own business, doing nothing at all, and shoots/stabs/sodomizes/Simonizes them for no reason whatsoever. On a good night, Some Guy gets around, and half of the people in an ER at 2 in the morning could have said hello to Some Guy before he forced them to drink gasoline.

Well, I noticed that Some Guy is moving up. Specifically, he's been moving into real estate for a few years. I'll bet that the moment the big downtown real estate greedheads hear the complaints about the insane rents in downtown, they'll argue "Well, Some Guy told us that those spaces are worth even more than that, so nyahh!" He's already convinced plenty of morons in residential real estate that 2006 house prices are more than reasonable, so why should he stop there?

Well, I guess it's time for The Pearl to start Urban Renewal on top of it's existing Urban Renewal-call it Uber Urban Renewal(UUR). Uurrrrr, just like downtown Portland keeps doing.

The problem is that there is little reason to go downtown anymore. Look across the river to the Central Eastside. Almost no vacancy for Malsin's creative space, and lots of other new development. Why? Smaller spaces, lower rent, and greater accessibility.

My attorney now has an office in one of those "creative" buildings. Very cool space, and pretty easy to get to.

If downtown had cheap parking and wasn't clogged by confusing transit lanes, tweakers and bums...it would be a very different story.

"Portland will be the world of shopping"....more like the 3rd world!

It's bad all over. Just drive down Sandy Boulevard West towards downtown and you'll see plenty of for sale/for lease signs. Drove through the west-side 'burbs over the weekend and there were plenty of empty storefronts out there as well. Not saying CoP doesn't have some bass-ackwards development priorities that drive away businesses (they do), but the bad local and national economy play a part, as well. It may be more noticeable downtown because there are more storefronts in a compact area within short distances of each other.

Like Krugman and Stiegliz keep saying, businesses need customers. People need jobs and income before they'll be spending again.

OK, I am writing this since I know that CoP employees read this blog.

They really should drive over to Clackamas T/C, Wash Sq, SW Cedar Hills or Tanasbourne to see what a good retail environment looks like - Parking, wide roads for cars, no bike paths and no MAX/streetcars (at least before building. Please don't whine about sterile malls - Shoppers go there and not Pioneer Square.

Then take an additional drive to NW23rd, SE Hawthorne and NE Alberta to see that a good street scene is quite possible WITHOUT PDC money or developer handouts (a la the Pearl or SoWa).

Next, go see Nike and Intel and realize that Portland is becoming an economic backwater to Washington county.

Finally, and the most egregious sin, look at Hillsboro/Beaverton schools and roads. No URDs robbing school money and they are bursting because people are moving there. In about 10 years WA county will be bigger than Multnomah.

I really don't think this group will ever lift their heads out of their collective planner pods, but an appeal to logic always is worth a try. Otherwise, I think let the parasites continue killing the host.

Vacancies longer than about six months should be illegal. The owners of vacated central downtown storefront and commercial spaces should be obligated to lower the rent until they have a tenant.

Rather than this socialized fantasy, we have the socialized reality, that the taxpayer, one way or another, probably subsidizes these owners' losses -- in any case, there's clearly every incentive for owners to sit on their vacant eyesores for years on end. Is it worth it because of taxes? Depreciation? Business loss? Whatever it is, I know I've seen certain places sit vacant for years straight, and if the owners are making that work out for themselves financially -- and they seem to be -- then one way or another, the people are probably pitching in on the scheme.

Downtown could easily support more restaurants, shops, retailers, arts, entertainment, and specialty businesses than the neighborhoods do now. Getting tenants downtown is nobody's priority, though -- keeping the prices high is.

Steve, Washington County is the future, I'm afraid. All our talk about how people "want" dense urban environments hasn't kept the suburbs from attracting more people than the central city:


Schuks, I did forget to mention Lloyd Center, so I'll just let OregonLive today speak for me:

"Portland police on scene of shooting near Lloyd Center in Northeast Portland"

You're going to need a faster getaway vehicle than a streetcar or bike pretty soon here.

The people running Portland are a bunch of chimps scratching each other's back in this cage they call Portland.

"there's clearly every incentive for owners to sit on their vacant eyesores for years on end."

Any owner would love to have a decent tenant instead of sitting empty. He still has to pay utilities, insurance and property taxes (along with all the special little assessments.) If you can find me an owner (or better yet his bank) that buys a property downtown to let it sit vacant, I'd love to hear a real example.

Portland is slowly choking itself by killing off parking and letting the homeless take over, all the while making it more expensive to operate.

Then take an additional drive to NW 23rd, SE Hawthorne and NE Alberta to see that a good street scene is quite possible WITHOUT PDC money or developer handouts.

Not every handout is a direct tax subsidy, a PDC giveaway, or a guaranteed loan that isn't ever paid back and ends up stuck on taxpayers - it can be much less obvious than this. In the case of NW 23rd, a local developer worked CoP Council into spot-zoning some residential parcels for commercial parking garages, an issue still being contested by the neighborhood association.

I won't speak for SE Hawthorne or NE Alberta, as I don't live there, but I wouldn't be surprised to see the same goings on there.

Externalizing costs onto existing neighbors is nothing new, but it's been taken to new extremes here.

"the case of NW 23rd, a local developer worked CoP Council into spot-zoning some residential parcels for commercial parking garages"

I believe that happened well AFTER NW 23rd got going unlike the Pearl which was an attempt to kick start with major tax inducements to benefits BEFORE it happened.

I don't even know if I am against the NW 23rd thing, but spending a ton of URD dollars keeping Homer and G-E solvent instead of on schools, I have an issue with.

I think a discussion I overheard at a wedding on Saturday summed it all up... "I'll rather do anything other than go to downtown Portland."

OK CoP employees and Fireman Randy, Mayor Creepy,
LISTEN UP! The people of Portland are trying to talk to you.
Can you HEAR us???
The downtown is nearly dead, because of the policies you have helped to promote, but do you care?
It sure doesn't seem like it.

The second do-over of lite rail dollars downtown did not do anything to help out the vacancies downtown. It did a great job of spending more Davis-Bacon dollars there however.

Saturday I took my eleven year old son to Saturday market and Powell's. The walk between those two spots was literally infested with the homeless. I had to hold my breath while passing certain doorways.

Ah, but we put it all into perspective later while watching the documentary on the Medicis, Savonarola, and the explosion of Renaissance art and culture in Florence in the 1400's.

We concluded, humanity is very flawed, and we should make the best of things, because a bonfire of the vanities might be lurking just around the corner.

I used to love shopping downtown. The Galleria, Pioneer Place, etc. Now, between the street people and the train tracks down every street (not to mention the parking rates) why bother? I can get everything here in suburbia. The funny thing is by making downtown "pedestrian friendly", they have actually made it so bothersome to actually visit that it has pushed people away.

And no.......I won't be going by streetcar!

I believe that happened [NW 23rd developer working CoP Council into spot-zoning some residential parcels for commercial parking garages] well AFTER NW 23rd got going unlike the Pearl which was an attempt to kick start with major tax inducements to benefits BEFORE it happened.

So giveaways are OK for something that's already successful?

Gosh how come all the retail vacancies when Mult. Co. and CoP are both at 9.1% unemployment almost a 1% drop in the last month? Could it be unemployment benefits have run out and the count reflects these "drop outs"? I'm sure we will have some comments from Creepy about what a wonderful job he is doing and how he is responsible for the drop in unemployment all the while ignoring any of the root causes.

Mr. Grumpy, you forgot to add, all the money us taxpayers will save. We will no longer need to buy steel loos, any doorway can be used. free parking for the kickball fanatics. Plus the big saving for TriMet, they will only need to run the choo choo Train once or twice a day.

"So giveaways are OK for something that's already successful?"

If the give-aways are PDC loans for $10M+ to Vestas that go directly to Gerding-Edlen, no.

If you want to call a re-zoning a giveaway, maybe. Neighborhoods do change over time and maybe their uses do also. I don't think they are just throwing it to Singer (the developer) though. It is going through the usual drill of neighborhood approval.

The streets of downtown Portland - especially around Pioneer Square- are loaded with unsavory looking characters, not all homeless. One thing the city could immediately to help the situation and make people feel more secure about coming downtown is to put police officers on the street. Other than the rent a cops, I never see actual police officers walking the streets of downtown Portland. Police officers should be stationed at and around Pioneer Square all the time.

"All our talk about how people "want" dense urban environments hasn't kept the suburbs from attracting more people than the central city"

We used to live in the Hawthorne area. I loved our neighborhood. But we outgrew our house and couldn't afford to buy a larger one in the area, so we moved to outer NE Portland and bought a house twice as large, on an oversized lot, for $50K less than we sold our Hawthorne place. The suburbs are attracting people because it's cheaper to live out here and the schools are relatively good.

If you tax or regulate something you get less of it. Try opening a commercial business downtown. The SDC fees alone might make you look fondly at the beat up trailers serving street food.


Add on the risky process of asking the CoP for "permission" to do what you want and it is straight to the burbs for most.

My point "and I do have one" is that there's an upside to a little neglect in that it should be allowed to translate into opportunity, if allowed. Anyone remember the original Powell's used books? Django? They were able to locate downtown because it was funky and affordable but still central and served by transit and foot traffic. 2nd Ave records, Lookingglass books, Park Ave. Records, Ray's Ragtime, Avalon, Cameron's, the X-Ray, Hamburger Mary's - for every one we can remember, or is still around, dozens had a chance to start up and add to the reasons people come downtown.

Policy, however, generally follows a single line - increasing value via the frequently ill-considered pursuit of highest and best use. The result overall seems to have been that downtown features a few thousand extra high-priced living units, and a conversation confined to topics of class A office space and oversized retail concerns. Yay, developers! But businesses aren't avoiding downtown simply because "the homeless" are ruining it -- it's the city, for god's sake -- they're avoiding it in large part because the landlords demand too much relative to what they really have to offer. Instead of "build it and they will come" I say "if it's cheap enough they will come." I offer as hypothetical proof: how many places you can see ten or twenty food carts and vacant storefronts at the same time. Are the carts there because it's the latest trend, or is it the latest trend because it's cheap, which is what storefronts in dirty downtowns that haven't truly thrived in fifty years once were, and ought to be still.

Don't think history repeats itself?

In the '70's many mid-sized cities across the country (but not Portland) tried to 'improve' their downtowns by making them auto-free and pedestrian friendly. In almost all cases these areas slowly turned into predator and addiction infested zones of abandonment until a new crop of planners realized it was a mistake.

Today's ruinous plans creates future real estate bargains for someone else. It all depends on who's doing the planning.

Just think how many bicycle shops, bicycle helmet shops, bicycle accessory shops, bicycle clothing shops, etc. can go in now!

But we'll definitely need West Hayden Island to accomodate all of the container ships that bring in all that made-in-China bicycling gear.

Yes, the vast majority of bikes sold today are in fact made in China. Unless you buy a $5,000 custom carbon fiber bike, or one of those woodben bikes.

Then we'll need a new bicycle bridge to Hayden Island because the Interstate Bridge is too far to the east. But what about the fish in the North Portland Harbor? And then we'll need a new "bicycle freeway" to transport all that freight from West Hayden Island to downtown...guess we can rip out the BNSF mainline and put bikes there (completely grade separated with no grade crossings with streets between Vancouver and the Pearl District - an ideal route for a bike path; plus it's flat!)

I used to actually like to go downtown,
not so much now.

Parking spots one by one were taken away until almost impossible. I do not want to take light rail anymore.... might take a bus on occasion...but the time element to go from place to place takes too long. Stops in various parts of the city, a grocery store on the way home and then a meet with friends, would take hours on mass transit.

Now that I look back, the new meters were annoying, part of the reason I stopped going downtown, the run around up and down the block, preferred the simple meters. ...there are parking lots, but didn't like driving round and round up to the fifth floor and walking around in those concrete inhumane spaces to an elevator.

Portland downtown had vitality and life but it has been chipped away.

Interesting architecture torn down, small businesses, specialty shops, etc. Don't think the LID helped these businesses.

Lucs Advo wrote about Galleria, it was quite the place, offices upstairs, a bustling coffee shop on the second floor, great conversation and meeting place, but as stated, on to the next "big thing" and then the next.

Broadway used to be well...Broadway. The gift shop at the Historical Society is unique and will make a trip to go there.

In my view, the transit mall we had was fine, needed some repair. Why did this transit mall have to be torn up and redone so soon?

That tearing around downtown and these streets bus lane only and bikes, and the message is clear. Make it difficult if you don't use transit. A few weeks ago I needed to deliver a document, have done this before, a convenient 10-minute parking space had been there for years, this time, parking space erased completely, now a bus lane. We did find a parking meter and found that the meter now would only accept a minimum amount, my five-minute errand that used to be done with ease now turned into one more reason to not go downtown.

As I have stated before, realize changes are expected, in my view haven't seen positive changes.

I try to avoid going down fourth avenue by the city hall, too much of a reminder of what a mess they have made of what once used to be a vital and healthy downtown.

I think PD is on to something. When I started my business in 1988 in the office building at 10th and Salmon; downtown Portland was thriving. There was still lots of street parking in those days - and without the stupid "smart" meters. Rents were reasonable. I even stayed in the same location for about six years. But the building changed hands and the leasing costs went up and both myself and the beauty school on the ground floor both left about the same time.
I then moved out of the area and up by PSU and years later on; further out into an office building on Barbur Blvd. with lots of free parking.
In the years after I left downtown, I continued to use businesses down there and attend lots of concerts at the Schnitz. But in the last couple of years, more than a few of the businesses I used also left downtown and the huge number of bums and street kids made it less than enjoyable to even be there at all. When I was back in Portland last month, I counted the vacant storefronts on Broadway as we drove up the street. Far more than I could have ever imagined - at least 13 or 14...
The only way things will turn around is if someone has the cajones to start enforcing "quality of life" issues and make life less than pleasant for the street people. Small merchants won't put up long term with bums using their doorways as toilets or worse; and neither will most business people.

The city is hopeless to get their head around such a problem. They really only have a couple tricks in their bag: build transit, and subsidize private development.

Downtown has gone down, as have some neighborhoods. Flag-lot infill is another trick, city gets more tax money and neighbors lose livability and value of property.

If you want to call a re-zoning a giveaway, maybe [giveaways are OK].

A spot upzoning is most certainly to be viewed as a giveaway, just as a downzoning, or application of other regulations to a parcel that previously hadn't had such regulations, would commonly be viewed as a taking.

And yes, neighborhoods do evolve, but the neighbors immediatly impacted from spot zoning are rarely compensated for their lowered quality of life from, say, having to live next door to a multi-story parking structure that previously was a residence.

And in the case of NW 23rd, the neighborhood is involved not because the city thought it would be swell to involve them, but because they threatened legal action.

Snards:They really only have a couple tricks in their bag: build transit, and subsidize private development.

Good points, but will add they use a whole bag of tricks on us to get what they want or need to get in order to keep their position.

More than I care to go down the list now, but one of the worst is the deception involved with the public process and involvement, set up meetings and surveys, etc to get the outcome they want. We have the appearance of public input when in reality, they don't value the input or listen.

Makes me wonder whether as soon as they get into council, they are indoctrinated as to how to go against the best interests of the people and simply feel fine in doing so over and over again.

John Rettig just mentioned, they threatened legal action in the NW area.

It has gotten to where even getting information, the record to do just that is becoming difficult and costly. Seems the case against the citizens is getting worse.

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