|Gateway corridor study results presented
THE MID-COUNTY MEMO
Although the crowd clustered in semi-circles at the Little Chapel of the Chimes-which volunteered its funeral home for the meeting-the atmosphere was not somber. A cautious optimism filled the air as people listened to Michele Reeves, the consultant that the Portland Development Commission hired to conduct the study for more than an hour and a half, present Chapter Two of an unfolding story. The plot began as far back as 2007, with several surveys and myriad consultants hired along the way.
In its current spate of survey taking, the PDC hopes the Halsey-Weidler couplet-rebranding project will jump-start its Gateway Urban Renewal plan, now at the mid-point of its 20-year shelf life. Reeves, of Civilis, Inc., a private consultation firm, offered suggestions based on data from a February 19 interactive workshop with business owners, two community walks in February, mapping projects, and interviews with business and property owners.
Susan Kuhn, a senior manager at the PDC, told the crowd that PDC would offer not more than $200,000 in the next fiscal year for the renovation of the couplet area-that is in addition to $100,000 from the PDC's Storefront Improvement Project money, about $75,000 from a Community Livability Grant and probably several thousand dollars from Development Opportunity Services funds. Kuhn noted that the figures were not precise yet because this was the first week they heard Reeves' recommendations. We're not the only funders, Kuhn said. We're going to be looking for other funders.
She indicated the Portland Bureau of Transportation likely would fund features, such as bike parking, bike lanes and crosswalks.
Kuhn said she has organized a Halsey-Weidler Corridor group of about 14 businesses and property owners in the area who will provide the feedback to PDC, develop strategy, and help us to prioritize the projects for implementation. That group met April 21with architect Ben Ngan and his team and meets again May 5 and 12 as well as June 4 at 11:30 am at the East Portland Neighborhood Office, 1017 N.E. 117th Ave.
The Halsey-Weidler Commercial Corridor Investment Strategy Public Open House is May 21 from 9 to 11:30 a.m. and from 6:30 to 8 p.m. at 1111 N.E. 102nd Ave., Suite F, at the Gateway EcoDistrict Office in the Gateway Fred Meyer Shopping Center. That free event is open to the public.
Reeves, armed with slides and a running metaphor-comparing the commercial couplet to a giant store with attractive front doors leading into inviting aisles, merchandise and displays-wove the community's ideas into a visual tapestry of refurbished buildings, eye-catching signs and innovative events to draw in crowds. She emphasized the idea of showing-rather than telling-people what Gateway is all about.
Her survey had asked people about what Gateway meant to them in order to figure out how it should look.
Many people in the survey wanted the district to look Hawthornesque, very clearly without the hipsters, she said. The Gateway Area Business Association is covering a gigantic area, each section with different needs and identities.
Moreover, she determined that the district's store was the two triangle areas between Northeast 112th and 102nd avenues and Halsey and Weidler streets.
To advertise the front door to Gateway, she suggested a recreation of some form of the arches many residents recall that were landmarks at the entrance of the district until their 1991 removal.
It's a tough corner here, and it might be possible to do some kind of larger structure here that introduced the idea of the arch back and starts to show something you're passionate about in your community, Reeves said.
In addition, she suggested a community garden be created at a location where people enter the area. The garden could produce food for the nearby Portland Adventist Community Services food bank in the old P&X Thriftway grocery store building on Northeast 110th and Halsey. Students at local schools could build a greenhouse from recycled plastic and work in the community garden to produce food throughout the year. The community could have different kinds of recycled-container greenhouses dotting the area.
Continuing her store metaphor, she suggested the aisles of the store were similar to streets and sidewalks. The two-lane couplet between Halsey and Weidler is already unusual and telegraphs to passers-by that they are entering a unique area. However, the couplet street pattern is designed to move traffic through more efficiently, so cars end up whizzing by businesses.
The number one thing that every business owner in this district talks about is that people drive through too fast and it's bad for their business, Reeves said.
It is important to create a sanctuary, away from busy traffic, in the middle of the couplet. She suggested features to create that look might be bump-outs, parking stripes, bike lanes, street trees and crosswalks.
She suggested the business association push aggressively for what they want the Oregon Department of Transportation to do. For example, more striping on the streets that show this is a place for people about to cross the street, she said.
She noted Whole Foods Market installed paintings inside its parking lot, showing people about to the cross the street.
Be creative and install a piece of street art on your bump-out or where the crosswalk is, she suggested. And maybe it's just a statue of someone about to cross the street. I bet that would slow every single person down who was driving through there.
Although many people in the survey hated the idea of street trees, Reeves nonetheless sang their virtues: they create vertical interest which attracts shoppers and slows down traffic; they create a solid block between pedestrians and traffic; they create an identity. However, if the community still does not want them, a similar feeling can be created with street art.
With the new Gateway Park going in on the corner of Northeast 102nd and Halsey Street, Reeves suggested creating a series of micro-restaurant pods along the street to show activity and to mirror the fact it is an urban park. This activity also creates eyes on the street, she said.
Sidewalks are also important for attracting customers, especially if dotted with restaurants with outdoor furniture.
Tables and chairs are the best way of telling a story about food even if nobody ever uses them, she said. But if you can get people to use them, it's even better. If you can pack other people out visibly doing something, other people will want to join them; we're pack animals.
Signs should show-not tell, she said. Her slides showed an auto repair shop with the front part of an actual car jutting through the sign and a veterinarian clinic with paintings of pets in the window.
She suggested focusing resources first on Halsey, because it has more buildings closer together that face the street. Gaping blank spaces and parking lots should be filled up, if possible, and buildings that face to the side should be reoriented to the front.
Businesses that have parking lots could use them to hold activities. She lauded McGillacuddy's Restaurant for holding a beach volleyball tournament at its site. Even projecting movies or Timbers games outside the restaurant would draw crowds, she predicted.
Applying for grants would help fund many of the projects she's suggesting. Perhaps an outdoor activity storefront grant could be obtained from PDC. Venture Portland also provides grants for innovative ideas, such as landscape improvement or creative use of parking lots.
Reeves also suggested new awnings, brighter paint jobs, carving in windows, updating fixtures and better-lit buildings through window displays and during the night. She suggested buildings should not be hidden behind bushes and landscaping to engage with the street. Businesses should also take advantage of being physically close to each other to plan events to do together.
During the question period that followed the talk, Valerie Curry, an Argay Terrace resident who was, until recently, chair of the Argay neighborhood association for more than a decade, who sometimes shops in the Gateway area and was at the presentation, complained about the growing numbers of drug users and panhandlers assembling in the shopping areas. I don't want to come over in the area anymore, Curry said. I don't want to park in the Fred Meyer Shopping Center anymore because of what it's like down there. It's really looking bad. If you get street seating and what not, you know what's going to be on there until we correct the problem that's going on in this area. I want to shop in the area; I want to see these businesses really prosper. But if I have to wade through, or go through, and worry about parking and maybe be accosted in the parking lot ... I don't want to go there.
Reeves responded by saying one way to combat people congregating and doing that they shouldn't be doing is to create sidewalk activity and tables.
That's one of the reasons I like bars, Reeves said. I use bars to get rid of crime because they're open late. I want people sitting outside. Right now, everything's inside.
State Representative Jessica Vega Pederson, another audience member who represents District 47 in east Portland, told the Memo after the meeting that I was really impressed by some of the ideas that were talked about at that meeting.
There's a lot of potential in the Gateway area to be very targeted in the revitalization project to make the area more pedestrian friendly, more shopper friendly and to really highlight some of the local businesses that are already well-established in that area.
Vega Pederson said she especially liked the idea of creating good lights and visibility for people walking by, for better traffic devices to help slow down traffic and better colors and signage to make it more visually appealing.
Creating an attractive entrance to the Halsey-Weidler corridor was also high on her list.
That will be a really strong signal to give some identity to the place and to let people know where they are and what to expect when they're in Gateway. She added, The best thing that was talked about was let's just focus narrowly on the Halsey-Weidler couplet instead of trying to be really broad. I think we're going to see a lot more results and a little more interest by focusing on a very specific area in Gateway that already has established some identity and help modernize that identity.
When asked if she thought this plan for the area would move more quickly than several surveys and focus groups in the past that led to few results for the area, Pederson was optimistic.
I'm very hopeful with the partnership with PDC and the task force that they're putting together that we'll see some action and we'll see some action very soon and will be moving forward with this re-branding and redevelopment plan for Gateway, she said. It's exciting. There's been a lot of talk that's happened and I think this will be a new beginning and a really good step forward for the future of the Gateway business area.
For more information, contact the PDC website: www.pdc.us or call Susan Kuhn at 503-823-3406.
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