Above: Lisa Rohleder, owner of Working Class Acupuncture, recently opened a new location at Southeast 92nd and Foster. PDC is funding sidewalk and storefront improvements to the area.
Below: Agbora Naanee, owner of Wireless City on Southeast 123rd and Division, is helping conduct outreach with local businesses to improve the area.
// Photos by Sierra Breshears
Boosting low-income and minority business entrepreneurship is one goal — and challenge — associated with outer east side redevelopment efforts. Attracting the private market is another. And while a still-sluggish economy makes it difficult to lure outside investment, the roadblocks go beyond financing.
In the 1990s, urban pioneers began fixing up Victorian and Craftsman homes in and around the Alberta and Belmont Main Street districts, paving the way for the inner-city renaissance. East Portland, by contrast, is sorely lacking in attractive, pedestrian-friendly environments, a key factor in the development of thriving close-in business districts. Instead, an overabundance of uninspired 1990s townhomes and dangerous highway-like arteries characterize East Portland — for example, seven of the city’s 16 most dangerous intersections are located in the Powellhurst neighborhood.
Such infrastructure deficiencies have not escaped the attention of Hales, who, like the PDC’s Quinton, says he aims to redistribute public resources for street improvements and other amenities more equitably throughout the city. “We are going to be looking with an equity lens at everything we do, and that includes geographic equity,” he says.
For Hales, trying to mitigate problems facing East Portland looks something like redemption. In 1996, as Bureau of Planning chief, Hales helped pass the Outer Southeast Community Plan, which rezoned a nearly two-mile stretch of 122nd between Foster and Division for apartments, townhouses and other multifamily dwellings. As a result, the neighborhood’s population jumped 34% from 2000 to 2010, and the number of renters increased by 72%.
Responding to resident complaints about the surfeit of housing — and lack of businesses — the city recently rezoned about 20 acres along 122nd Avenue allowing commercial activity. But Hales now faces criticism for trying to scale back sidewalk improvements in the area, a move that has sparked community outrage, especially after a 5-year-old girl was killed in February while crossing Southeast 136th Avenue.
There may also be a limit to what the public sector can do to lure the market east. Kevin Cavenaugh, a developer known for his innovative mixed-use projects in central-city neighborhoods, says rents aren’t high enough in the outer east side and that government programs alone won’t solve the problem. “Before moving to East Portland, builders have to be convinced good tenants will follow,” says Cavenaugh. “Will 24th & Meatballs locate in Lents? Will Noble Rot go out to 92nd?” he asks, referring to trendy dining venues that have located in his developments. “That’s the really interesting question, philosophically and practically.”
At least one well-known Portland business, New Seasons, may be ready to take the plunge. Grocers typically need the right mix of population, density, income and education level, and those demographics can deter food retailers from opening stores in East Portland neighborhoods, says Don Forest, New Seasons director of real estate.
But Forest says New Seasons “stretched those parameters” by opening stores in the (then) relatively poor neighborhoods around Killingsworth and Interstate avenues. Declining to be more specific, he also suggested New Seasons may soon open a store on the outer eastside. “There is a demand for a grocer east of 205, and we hope it’s us.” In March the Grocery Outlet beat New Seasons to the punch, opening a store on Southeast Division and 122nd Avenue, one of several East Portland neighborhoods the U.S. Department of Agriculture has identified as “grocery deficient.”