Does Multnomah Village have a parking problem?
One landlord thinks so. He hears often from his shopkeeper tenants who tell him that customers will shop elsewhere rather than take 10 minutes circling Southwest Capitol Highway looking for a place to park. One merchant, who prefers to remain anonymous, thinks so and says lack of parking is part of the reason some businesses have had to close. Neighbors south of Multnomah Boulevard say it's too risky to walk to Multnomah Village so they have no choice but to drive there and hope good parking karma kicks in.
If a lack of free parking in Multnomah Village is indeed a problem, it's only going to get worse during the month of July. The Capitol Highway Repaving Project currently underway shifts into high gear this month. Construction crews plan to alternately close one of the two lanes that run through the heart of the business district. Merchants are wary.
A group of them went to Portland City Hall in late May to tell City Council members why they are concerned and ask for some help. The speakers from the Multnomah Village Business Association asked for a reliable, updated work schedule, good safety signage and $3,000 for a public information campaign.
Then the parking problem was brought up. Ken Zeidman, owner of three buildings along Capitol Highway, asked council members to consider building a two- to three-story parking structure on the site of the parking lot at Multnomah Arts Center. The only response he got was from Commissioner Chloe Eudaly.
"I'm not going to weigh in on that," she said.
"I just wanted to plant the seed," Zeidman told me a couple of weeks after his testimony and suggestion. Multnomah Arts Center is about to enter a new phase of its existence and desperately needs to generate more revenue.
Charging for parking could be part of the plan.
"The funding mechanism could be a win-win for everybody," he said.
Another merchant doesn't know if such a structure is the answer but is convinced that something has to be done.
"We have no parking. If it's a rainy day people have to walk in the rain after parking at the Arts Center. Parking is limited to two hours on Capitol Highway but that's not enforced. It's complaint-driven. The only reason a ticket person will come is if a business calls," according to this merchant.
In a perfect Multnomah Village there would be plenty of free parking. But it's not a mall. The fact that it isn't Washington Square is the beauty of living within walking distance, even if sidewalks are as rare as a parking space for First Friday festivities.
This may not be the perfect solution and, like Ken Zeidman's idea, it's not been vetted yet. But I would propose that there already actually is ample free parking for people headed to Multnomah Village: the unused parking lot at the Sears Center on Multnomah Boulevard at Southwest 25th.
Commuters and readers of the SW Connection are familiar with the location. It used to be a military center (not an armory) until it was decommissioned and handed over to the city of Portland. So far the premises have served as a temporary homeless shelter and as a training facility for local law enforcement. The parking lot, which is a 20 to 25 minute stroll to Thinker Toys, sits unused most of the time. But recently parents of students at nearby West Hills Christian School have been parking there for school events and to retrieve their children after school.
This doesn't have to be a temporary solution. Imagine parking for Multnomah Days on Aug. 17 at the Sears Center instead of in front of someone's house and walking west on Multnomah Boulevard past Jimmy's Bar and Grill and Grand Central Bakery to Marco's Restaurant or John's Marketplace at Southwest 35th. The parade is a block away and you made it there in 22 minutes.
As long as potential shoppers and diners can be convinced a short walk won't kill them, this parking proposal checks a couple of boxes. It takes the guesswork out of accessing Multnomah Village by car. It limits parking on narrow side streets. It promotes good health and pedestrianism. So why not make the Sears Center parking lot on Multnomah Boulevard Portland's first PARK AND WALK lot?
You would think that as the principal sponsor of Multnomah Days this year, the Portland Bureau of Transportation would jump on this idea.
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