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A full closure of SE 13th on weekends may not be in the cards, but the 'side street plazas' are a reality

DAVID F. ASHTON - People gather in the Nehalem Street Nook plaza - on S.E. Nehalem Street, just west of 13th - to dine, to chat, and to hear the live music being performed under the tent. Volunteer business people – championing outdoor seating and social-distanced gathering spaces in Sellwood's 13th Avenue business district north of Tacoma Street – have now decided to set aside their proposal to close portions of the street itself on weekends, because of the costs and requirements of the ambitious project.

Because of this decision, Tri-Met routed bus service back along S.E. 13th Avenue from a detour in mid- September.

However, a secondary part of that plan has indeed come to pass – "side-street plazas", on S.E. Spokane, Nehalem, and Lexington streets, extending a short distance west of 13th Avenue. They saw lively activity – until lung-choking dense wildfire smoke moved into the area for days in mid-September.

The "Nehalem Street Nook" plaza also included live music from local musicians, starting on August 29, arranged by the steadfast Sellwood Moreland Improvement League (SMILE) "Concerts in the Park" coordinator, and now again a SMILE Board Member, Jim Friscia.

"It came out of a conversation that that we've all been having – that it would be great to have a little live music here, since [because of the COVID-19 pandemic] we have not been able to have live music anywhere in Inner Southeast Portland this summer," Friscia told THE BEE, as the first band of the series, the duo "Pretty Gritty", wrapped up their first set.

The coronavirus concerns shuttered the "Sellwood Music in the Park" series this summer, so the committee didn't solicit funds from neighborhood businesses as they typically do. "But, SMILE had budgeted a contribution to the concert series," Friscia told us. "So the SMILE Board approved using some of that money to provide this music, as part of the Sellwood Square project," he added. A local businessman who preferred not to be identified also matched that contribution.

The plan to host two local, from-the-neighborhood musical acts every Saturday throughout September was short-circuited mid-month by extremely hazardous wildfire smoke. In particular, many were disappointed to learn that the afternoon concert of September 12 by locally internationally-known blues music legend Lloyd Jones had been cancelled due to poor air quality.

"If the weather holds, and the conditions of the pandemic don't worsen, we may reschedule some of the bands – if their schedules allow – to go play during the first couple weeks of October," Friscia remarked to THE BEE. "No matter how it works out, I'm glad that we could bring at least this small outdoor musical event back into our neighborhood this year."


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