Sponsored by Energy Trust

The PDX park cafe challenge

| Print |  Email
Linda Baker
Thursday, March 08, 2012

BY LINDA BAKER

In Italy, indeed, in most European countries, cafés are a ubiquitous feature in parks and plazas. In Portland, a metropolis that likes to think of itself as “the best European city in America” — a phrase coined by mayoral candidate Charlie Hales a decade ago — cafés in parks are not ubiquitous. To be precise, there are only three permanent food service operations in Portland open spaces:  Starbucks in Pioneer Square, a coffee kiosk in South Waterfront Park, and Violetta in Director Park.

Now one of these three faces an uncertain future. Last week, Portland Parks and Recreation announced a search for a new  vendor in Director Park. Violetta hasn’t paid rent for a few months, and "it's time to move on," according to Mark Ross, a parks spokesperson. "We’ve tried to give them every opportunity to get things in order," Ross said. "But it hasn’t happened,"

Violetta’s owner, Dwayne Beliakoff, didn’t return phone calls from Oregon Business. But regardless of specific problems facing the restaurant — many thought the food was overpriced — Violetta is not the only privately owned café to struggle in a park setting. McCall’s Waterfront Park restaurant, perhaps the most famous of PDX open-space cafés, struggled for years before closing in 2005. 

Portland’s European-style bike and streetcar schemes are well underway. Why can’t we make the park café model work — and why are such businesses so few and far between? 

For a design perspective, I turned to landscape architect Lloyd Lindley, who was chair of the Portland Design Commission during the design review for Director Park — a project, by the way that was modeled after an Italian piazza.

Restaurants in parks can be successful, he said. But the Director Park location has its challenges — because it's a confined space on a narrow block and is already surrounded by cafés/restaurants such as Elephants Deli and Pastini, and just blocks from a popular food-cart pod.

Correcting my initial generalization, Lindley said not every plaza in Italy has an on-site café. “Every plaza in Italy has cafes around them," he said. The plazas themselves are “generally served by cafés around the edges and you find that tables spill out from side of building into the piazza.” During the Director Park review process, commission members suggested the park imitate this model, especially since the purpose of the curbless street design, Lindley said, was to "engage with the buildings around it."

Density, vitality and scale are the key ingredients for a successful park café.  Those criteria may help explain why McCalls faltered. Front Avenue cut off the restaurant from the density of downtown, leaving too few people, and customers, milling about.

Any discussion of siting cafés in PDX plazas has to include the weather. In the summer, Portland denizens flock to city open spaces. In the winter, not so much. “If there’s a challenge about locating food service in parks, it’s about seasonality,” says Todd Lofgren, Portland Parks property and acquisition manager. Lofgren noted that during the summer, city parks host dozens of successful farmer's markets and mobile food carts — such as the snack vendor in the Washington Park Rose Garden.

Portland has no shortage of food carts or temporary vendors. But permanent well designed buildings can be more powerful activators of the surrounding landscape — the goal of all good urban design. Locating restaurants in parks/plazas can be "a noble mission," suggests Lindley — and the practice may even work in parks outside of downtown. Asked about the suitability of locating a café in a neighborhood greenspace such as Laurelhurst Park,  Lindley said: “If you put in a beautiful garden restaurant that drew neighborhood residents and became a magnet for people."

As the city searches for a new vendor for the 840-square-foot Director Park site, there are signs that Portland is trying to extend the plaza café concept, despite the challenges. Last fall, I wrote about the conversion of SW Ankeny into a patio for nearby restaurants and the mini boom in sales that followed. Under the right circumstances, it would seem, cafés and public space are the perfect match — on or off the continent.

Linda Baker is managing editor of Oregon Business.

 

Comments   

 
Guest
0 #1 SW AnkenyGuest 2013-10-17 19:26:33
SW Ankeny is, in many ways, the open space model that I described in our interview. SW Ankeny is closed between 2nd and 3rd creating a "festival street" not unlike NW Davis and NW Flanders, and Park and 9th and Director Park. The difference is that the adjacent vendors are acting like European cafes by invigorating the street while expanding their table tops. Everyone wins. If it doesn't work as in the Director Park model there are no bricks and mortar to modify, remove, or abandon. I suggest Boat Key, Singapore, Piazza Navona, Rome to name popular models that illustrate successful examples. In Oslo's Eidsvoll Square a summer cafe serves tourists and downtown employees but is intentionally closed during the cold months of the year.
Quote | Report to administrator
 

More Articles

Water World

November/December 2014
Wednesday, October 22, 2014
BY KIM MOORE

Fred Ziari aims to feed the global population.


Read more...

Editor's Letter: Power Play

January-Powerbook 2015
Thursday, December 11, 2014

There’s a fascinating article in the December issue of the Harvard Business Review about a profound power shift taking place in business and society. It’s a long read, but the gist revolves around the tension between “old power” and “new power” as a driver of transformation. Here’s an excerpt:

Old power works like a currency. It is held by few. Once gained, it is jealously guarded, and the powerful have a substantial store of it to spend. It is closed, inaccessible, and leader-driven. It downloads, and it captures.

New power operates differently, like a current. It is made by many. It is open, participatory, and peer-driven. It uploads, and it distributes. Like water or electricity, it’s most forceful when it surges. The goal with new power is not to hoard it but to channel it.

The authors, Henry Timms and Jeremy Heimans, don’t necessarily favor one form of power over another but merely outline how power is transitioning, and how companies can take advantage of these changes to strengthen their positions in the marketplace. 

Our Powerbook issue might be viewed as a case study in the new-power transition. This annual book of lists provides information on leading businesses, nonprofits and universities in the state. Most of the featured companies are entrenched power players now pursuing more flexible and less hierarchical approaches to doing business. Law firms, for example, are adopting new technologies and fee structures to make legal services more accessible and affordable.

This month we also take a look at a controversial new U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission rule requiring public companies to disclose the median pay of workers, as well as the ratio between CEO and median-worker pay. 

Part of the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial reform law, the rule will compel public companies to be more open about employee compensation, with the assumption that greater transparency will improve corporate performance and, perhaps, help address one of the major challenges of our time: income inequality.

New power is not only about strategy and tactics, the Harvard Business Review authors say. “The ultimate questions are ethical. The big question is whether new power can genuinely serve the common good and confront society’s most intractable problems.”

That sounds like a call to arms. Or a New Year’s resolution. Old power or new, the goals are the same: to be a force for positive change in the world. Happy 2015!

— Linda


Read more...

Corner Office: Steve Tatone

January-Powerbook 2015
Saturday, December 13, 2014

Seven tidbits about the president and CEO of AKT Group.


Read more...

I Know How You Feel

November/December 2014
Wednesday, October 22, 2014
BY JESSICA RIDGWAY

Most smartphones come equipped with speech recognition systems like Siri or Cortana that are capable of understanding the human voice and putting words into actions. But what if smartphones could do more? What if smartphones could register feeling?


Read more...

Streetfight

News
Sunday, December 07, 2014
BY LINDA BAKER

On Friday, Uber switched on an app — and with one push of the button torpedoed Portland’s famed public process.


Read more...

Corner Office: Pam Edstrom

January-Powerbook 2015
Saturday, December 13, 2014

Seven tidbits of information from an agency partner and co-founder of Waggener Edstrom in Lake Oswego.


Read more...

Crowdfunding 2.0

News
Tuesday, December 02, 2014
120214-crowdfund-thumbBY LINDA BAKER

A conversation with attorney Erich Merrill about the latest way to raise money from large groups of people.


Read more...
Oregon Business magazinetitle-sponsored-links-02
SPONSORED LINKS