According to the Portland Business Journal, the Portland Development Commission (PDC) is setting aside $50,000 for a competition seeking to lure startup businesses to the Central Eastside. The goal, as it appears, is to create a challenge for business startups to compete with each other for the prize of free or reduced rent in space (hopefully) donated for the cause. The space, naturally, would be in the all-of-the-sudden-hot Central Eastside Industrial area, and winners would presumably receive business consulting and support from the PDC in addition to the rental assistance.
First, kudos to the PDC for being creative and trying to promote ingenuitive, economic growth. However, just as in the Pearl, where developers would gravitate anyway, does the Central Eastside really need to coax business interests into the area? While Produce Row and Le Bistro Montage have long claimed the area as home, they are no longer alone, as breweries, restaurants, coffee shops, and creative industries have quickly been populating the neighborhood.
So the question, then, becomes somewhat obvious: why aren’t the underused and/or vacant retail spaces on Foster being targeted in the same way? Surely business owners need to be lured here, and undeniably more so than in the Central Eastside.
So why aren’t they?
Yes, the PDC has set up incentives for business owners, such as the storefront improvement program. But in the face of such a competition as the above, you have to wonder if enough is being done to make outlying communities more economically viable.
And if the answer to that is “no, not enough is being done”…whatever shall we do? Let market forces dictate how the business climate on Foster Road evolves? Petition the city to do more? Do it ourselves?
Currently, the stretch of Foster between SE 63rd and 67th has (to my counting) four empty retail spaces and at least two vacant buildings (there are other buildings with questionable activity that could be lumped in there, too). If you consider the soon-to-be closing Save A Lot, its neighborhoring laundromat, and the rumored-to-be closing Dollar Tree, the retail activity in the “Heart of Foster” is somewhat bleak at the moment. Beyond that stretch, there are even more underused spaces dotting Foster Road.
So can we get the PDC to do more? They certainly have the tools and creativity to address the issue. And the argument that resources don’t exist can only go so far when other neighborhoods continue to be injected with money and development incentives. The streetscape plan will help change the character of Foster (hopefully), and perhaps it will become more inviting and business friendly. To me, though, it seems like another spark could be beneficial. Maybe not in the same way a startup competition will help the Central Eastside, but other possibilities exist.
What do you all think we and the city can do to make Foster Road more attractive to business owners? How can we adequately approach a tenant (like New Seasons or another grocer, for example) and petition them to take over the Save A Lot space? Or, how can we better encourage the small business owner to set up shop in one of the many smaller spaces that currently sit empty?
Let the ideas flow….