Downtown Portland businesses 'tired of waiting for help'
More Portland businesses are banding together to try and revive the city — and get city leaders' attention.
The downtown business community recently released an open letter to the City of Portland saying that it is done passively waiting for help.
"We want to support our small businesses that keep our culture alive and well," said Vanessa Sturgeon, CEO of TMT Development. "We want to maintain our Portland vibe."
Sturgeon and Jim Mark are commercial real estate developers and managers in downtown Portland. After hearing about months of struggle and strife from the small businesses they work with, they spearheaded an effort to round up their voices — and the Rose City Downtown Collective was formed.
The collective includes a wide variety of businesses and individuals ranging from hair stylists to restaurateurs to folks at business firms to candy shops — all of them calling on City Hall to do more.
On Wednesday, Dec. 2, the collective released the letter — signed by 300 people — calling on City Hall for help.
"We want to see the vibrancy come back, we want to have those family businesses look at Portland as a place where they want to form their businesses," said Mark, CEO of Melvin Mark Company. "Safety is a big element. We need to come down to a place where we know we can walk and shop and come to our offices safely."
While cities around the country are all being hit by COVID-19, Sturgeon and Mark say Portland has extra challenges that are keeping people from enjoying the downtown core. They include five months of vandalism in downtown Portland and growing homeless camps and trash impacting many business fronts.
The Rose City Downtown Collective founders say these chronic issues — and the fear of crime — can't continue.
"You already had businesses who were on their last legs because of COVID-19, when all they had to their names was their inventory. Then that was taken from them. The expense of replacing their windows is just the final blow for these small businesses," Sturgeon said.
"We need these small businesses to have safety for their clientele," Sturgeon said. "We need the garbage picked up downtown, we need the homeless to have a compassionate resolution to the lifestyle that they're now living, which is quite inhumane in tents on the streets."
With hundreds signing on to help clean up downtown, they're also committing to working with elected officials to make it happen.
"We want to have that conversation with elected officials," Mark said. "We want elected officials to come downtown — walk — see the issues of boarded up retail and talk to people who are downtown in the community and clean up the trash and issues that's facing downtown today."
The Rose City Downtown Collective is calling on the city to help: promote cleanups downtown with Stop Oregon Litter and Vandalism (SOLVE); create a sign-up for vandalized businesses to connect them to funds and volunteers who can help repair damages; create a system to report and remove new graffiti; and connect downtown businesses to city, state and county officials for a clear action plan to aid downtown businesses.
Business owners say that elected officials let them down this year — and they're hoping the new Portland City Council will step up.
"We really need support from our elected officials," Sturgeon said. "Mayor Wheeler is really working to improve things, but he needs the support of his fellow council members. He's only one vote out of five."
KOIN 6 News is a news partner of the Portland Tribune. Their story can be found here.
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