Sunday, March 3, 2013

Downtown business suffers from the sitters and lie abouts

Another story about downtown business owners moaning and groaning about the rift raft that deters tourists and natives alike from venturing downtown. [Downtown business owners want to prevent sitting on sidewalks].

There is no doubt though that the problem is real and it is far from new. I have lived in Portland since 2004 and the problem existed then and has only gotten worse.

The city hasn't found it politically unpopular enough to really address the issue aggressively. They hide behind assertions that the sitters are the homeless, and in Portland, that assertion is enough to stall any meaningful effort.

Oh they have attempted to pass ordinances, but they were poorly conceived and drafted by would be attorneys or attorneys that ought to have their licenses revoked.

The city over the years continues to blame the courts, the state or anyone else that they can point a finger at. Deflecting responsibility is the city hall game when even the possibility might exist that their efforts would be seen as anti-homeless.

Remember that this a city that marched proudly around spouting a ten year plan to end homelessness that was in fact the federal program that the city embraced for the funds that came with it. And where is that plan today?

This time the business and property owners have decided to do something themselves. By the way the Portland Business Alliance who collects (taxes) money from the forced membership has failed to represent these businesses. But they will make sure the lights are in the trees during xmas.

The KGW post states that "[a]group of business owners and property managers supports the idea, and plan to lobby for it in Salem."  But frankly it is unlikely they are willing to spend the money to do the job. It will require the hiring of a real lobbyist that has what it takes to get Salem to pay attention.

And one guesses that this group will obtain only lukewarm support, if any support at all, from the city.  What is in it for the city? Look it is only the small business owners, renters if you will, that are suffering.  There always will be some other business to lease the storefront.

The city has a myopic view that has led to the continual decline in the downtown. I call your attention to Berkeley, California that I see as my hometown. Telegraph Avenue was at one time a bustling business district located at the University of California. The city fiddled while the Avenue burned.

The university, although public institution, has a well-healed student population that over the years has looked elsewhere to spend their bucks. Other business district sprung up in Berkeley that began servicing their needs adding to the decline of Telegraph.

There are several reasons not mentioned in the article Berkeley ponders Telegraph Ave. upgrades that led to its decline, but chief among them is the rift raft that sat on the sidewalks with their bags and animals in close proximity making passage more like an obstacle course.

What they created was the path of least resistance, that is, it became easier to go elsewhere. Cody's bookstore somewhat like Powell's on Burnside, equally as popular, folded. The storefront still sits empty since 2006, but it was nearly empty long before 2006.

Now Berkeley is seeking to do something about it after permitting the altering of the character and vibrancy of the once prosperous business district.  Too late and more than a dollar short.

I suggest that this is what Portland will be doing before too long - looking to resuscitate a business district. Instead of great stores that attracts tourists and Portlanders - it will be an area where only the stores that serve the low to very low incomes will exist.

When I first moved to Portland I spent a good amount of my time and money downtown, but it didn't take long before I found other areas to go to. I used to enjoy just walking around downtown and hanging out a bit in the  Pioneer Courthouse Square. I don't go downtown anymore. I don't think that I am alone in this experience.

Good luck to the group seeking to put things right - it will be an uphill battle.  But I submit that there is not enough people who give a rat's ass to make the difference. But look - we have bike lanes.

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