|Gateway-Weidler business owners brainstorm re-branding ideas
THE MID-COUNTY MEMO
Many of those people work at the Portland Development Commission. Therefore, it is not surprising that on Feb. 19, the PDC sponsored a marketing workshop for business owners along that Northeast Halsey-Weidler corridor, hoping to polish up the area's tarnished image.
About 22 businesses and property owners showed up to hear Michele Reeves, with Civilis, Inc, the consultant PDC hired to present the workshop. The energetic Reeves captivated the crowd sitting around tables at McGillacuddy's Sports Bar and Grill. Entertaining and witty, she suggested ways to create a new brand for the Gateway area, punctuating her remarks with slides from other cities and neighborhoods that had attracted new customers and residents.
Participants then broke into small groups, brainstorming answers as Reeves tossed questions out like confetti: What do people in the region think of when they think of Gateway? and What types of stores or shops would you like to see in Gateway?
At the end, Susan Kuhn, a senior program manager at the PDC, invited the participants to join two community walks along the corridor planned for Feb. 25 and 26, during which time they could point out to PDC planners what changes were needed, from adding crosswalks to trash cans.
Reeves has now analyzed the data from the workshop, the walks and focus groups and will present her findings at a meeting on April 8 at noon at the Little Chapel of the Chimes, 1515 N.E. 106th Ave.
In the second phase of the PDC project, Ben Ngan of Nevue Ngan Architects will create actual designs for infrastructure improvements, including street lighting, crosswalks, awnings and other improvements. Ngan will present those designs at a public workshop in May or June.
In the third and final phase, the PDC will bring the community together to brainstorm how to develop one acre of property owned by the PDC at Southeast 106th and Halsey Street, in front of the newly-proposed three-acre Gateway Park.
I don't know if we are going to bring a consultant in for that, Kuhn said, We'll determine that later. We will have public meetings as we move forward with that plan.
One workshop participant, Ted Gilbert, partner in Gilbert Bros. Commercial Brokerage Company and a former member of the Gateway Program Advisory Committee, the advisory group for Gateway's urban renewal area, said of the marketing strategy, I think it's a worthwhile effort. The Halsey-Weidler couplet has a lot of potential. It once was a real thriving corridor and could be again.
Even while praising Reeves as an excellent choice to lead the branding campaign, Gilbert predicted it is unlikely the Halsey-Weidler couplet ultimately will turn the Gateway district around. Instead, he' s betting on the shopping area around the Fred Meyer store on Northeast 102nd Avenue near the transit area that will lead the way. Still, the couplet promises to be an important feature of the revitalization effort because many businesses are already located there. We want to make that a cute street, he said. I think it can be. It does have challenges.
Gilbert thinks the PDC was smart to start with the couplet since it's easier than something large and catalytic that's going to take more work effort or money, he said. They're starting at lower hanging fruit.
During his several years of work on the Gateway area, Gilbert admitted that there were lots of studies done and lots of planning sessions, workshops and consultants over the years. One, conducted by Portland State University graduate students, analyzed the Gateway area as one of Portland's five eco-districts, which are areas that could be planted with green type buildings and sustainable businesses. The Halsey-Weidler couplet, as well as the Fred Meyer shopping section, was targeted in that study.
When asked how this current Halsey-Weidler study differed from those past efforts, Gilbert said this one is more specific. That one didn't engage business owners on the street, he said. Maybe the eco-district will want to be incorporated, maybe it won't. What the PDC is looking to do is pragmatic, it's near term. They're taking this area which is smaller, more succinct, with exciting business operators on it and looking at what can we do in the near term and help them that way.
Kuhn said those previous studies were shared with Reeves and Ngan to help their analysis. She agreed with Gilbert that those studies were not specific to this corridor. There were some similarities but this one is more focused on those business owners and property owners to support those businesses, she said.
She added that the previous broader studies nonetheless pinpointed the Halsey-Weidler corridor as a key commercial corridor to focus on, highlighting it as significant to improve.
By working with the business owners, the PDC will offer those who need it their Storefront Improvement Program, which provides matching grants-the building owner paying half-for improvements to facades, including replacing windows and bricks and repainting exteriors.
Regarding how the PDC might develop its one-acre parcel along Northeast106th Avenue and Halsey Street that lies in front of the three-acre parcel that will become the new Gateway Park, Gilbert said various options were open, such as constructing a commercial building on the bottom with a multi-family structure on the top. With multi-family, it creates eyes on the street at night and eyes overlooking the park at night, Gilbert said. The retail could add vitality with the interface with the park and potentially more consumers to shop in the area.
Another design option might include a restaurant with outdoor seating and patios overlooking the park. However, he noted that the community might actually prefer an exclusively commercial building on that parcel similar to the Kaiser medical clinic built on Northeast 102nd Avenue where the old Circuit City store was.
The community is excited about that, he said. There are quality jobs. People want to eat and shop in the area, and live closer to work.
That kind of development would generate sorely needed property taxes. He admitted housing is also needed; however, nonprofit-built multi-family housing would not generate property tax revenue. Gilbert believes market rate housing is better, even though property owners would apply for the 10-year Limited Tax Exemption offered by the city to private developers in Gateway.
The Gateway Regional Center Urban Renewal Area is midway in its 20-year duration. Gilbert believes for the next five years the private sector should step in with capital and jobs. Once Gateway is on its financial feet again, then more affordable housing could be built because the property tax base would be solid.
However, Gilbert admitted that the issue of whether to build all commercial or to include housing is not black and white. The police would say the best security any neighborhood can have is eyes on the street, people living there, looking out on the park. That would discourage unhealthy activity out there.
George Lampus, another Halsey Street property owner, said he holds a contrarian view regarding whether people should live in housing above a commercial space at Gateway Park on Northeast106th Avenue and Halsey Street. I don't like housing on busy streets, said Lampus, a partner in Real Estate Investment Group and co-owner of the building on Northeast102nd Avenue and Halsey Street. If you live half a block or a block off you can still walk to bus lines and it's quieter and a nicer feel than being right on Halsey.
Lampus, who lives in Northwest Portland, said he watches drug deals take place in Couch Park-he calls it needle park-at Northwest Glisan Street and 20th Avenue. If you're a drug dealer, you don't think, 'I don't want to make a drug deal where people can see me,' he said. Drug dealers don't care.
After attending the workshop, Lampus was impressed by Reeves presentation and the PDC's plans for Gateway. They're not reaching for pie in the sky but are looking for real answers in the short term that will boost the area, Lampus said.
The input at the brainstorming sessions was very positive and very creative, Lampus said. He predicted the Gateway area could be turned in the relatively short term: three to five years.
Mark Jones, who owns McGillacuddy's Sports Bar and Grill on Northeast Halsey, hosted the early morning workshop, as well as attending one of the smaller focus groups two weeks earlier.
It's great they're asking for input from owners of buildings, Jones said of the PDC's process. Versus just coming in and doing whatever.
Jones noted one improvement would be slowing down eastbound traffic on Northeast Halsey Street and creating more safety for pedestrians crossing the street by adding more trees and/or crosswalks. I do see people just running across the street, which just seems sketchy in my opinion, he said. I get people in here every day who say this is my first time here. How long have you been here? People are blowing by at 50 miles an hour.
Jones, whose business has been there more than 20 years, said many times three generations of customers will sit at one of his tables. He happily shared his anecdotal observation that younger families with kids are moving to the area.
Gateway's got a ton of potential, he said. It's on its way up in my opinion. It's one of the few neighborhoods where a family can buy a two- or three-bedroom home with a front and back yard that's at a reasonable price.
Virginia Harris, who owns the Oregon Liquor Control Commission store at Northeast 103rd Avenue and Halsey Street, said of the triangle area, It has to be user-friendly and it's not user-friendly with one cross walk. I almost got hit three times getting to my car, walking across Halsey.
A police officer told Harris he clocked a driver going 67 miles per hour down Halsey Street recently. The story led her to cite safety as a high priority. My concern is the big amount of influx that we have of homeless, she said. It's the MAX that brings people in here, whether they're homeless or whether they're drug dealers. I just was panhandled trying to get into my car, in front of my business. I couldn't get in my business the other day because there were homeless people camped out on my runway by my front door.
Who's going to determine (the new park's) not going to be taken over by the numerous amounts of indigent people and drug dealers? It's nice having a park, but is that going to cure what's wrong with this neighborhood?
For more information on the Gateway corridor project, visit the PDC website: www.pdc.us or call Susan Kuhn at 503-823-3406.
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