Could the PDC’s Creativity Reach the Foster Environs?

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….

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18 Responses to Could the PDC’s Creativity Reach the Foster Environs?

  1. MizVerde says:

    I have been searching my mind for ways to convince people that there is a population here that wants these businesses, and would patronize the heck out of them. Maybe I will set up a chair in the Save A Lot lot for a day, with a big sign that reads “If you opened a store here, I’d be shopping now.”

  2. Nick Falbo says:

    When I heard about the PDC competition, I thought the exact same thing. Why are they holding the competition there, instead of somewhere more in need (aka Foster)?

    There is already momentum forming in the central eastside, and it seems like PDC is just riding the wave instead of fighting the good fight. Perhaps it’s a question of what they see their duty:

    Do they shape development that the market is already leading?
    Do they try to encourage development in areas where the market has forgotten?

    I’d like to think it’s the latter. Otherwise, what’s the fucking point?

  3. Maybe it would help if we encouraged Foster business owners to take the PDC’s Business Owner Survey. Might help to bring more attention to the area.

  4. beccapollard says:

    Maybe it would help if we encourage Foster business owner’s to take the PDC’s Business Owner Survey. Might bring more attention to the area.

  5. John Mulvey says:

    We’re typically not assigned the City’s best or brightest creative minds. Foster is where city planners and managers go to retire.

  6. Cora Potter says:

    The difference is the Central Eastside has business people/developers that are prodding staff at PDC to fund and manage these sorts of projects. These people are putting their own skin in the game as well.

    I think it’s important to understand that PDC as an agency is separate from individual staff people at PDC. In Lents Town Center, we’ve had some staff people that have been supportive and helped with the grass roots schemes we’ve devised – the tool library is one example of that, getting the storefronts done on the Pato/Eagle Eye building is another. But, there’s a limit to what grass roots can accomplish when its not capitalized. The Pato/Eagle Eye storefront project required over $100k in investment from the building owners (yay! Farahs, you rock) even with the PDC grant.

    So, if y’all want to do something big (actually the Day Theater, the Bob White and the Mercado are a big deal) start talking with the business owners. Help Matt Froman connect with a developer that’s willing to invest the huge amount of capital it will take to update the Phoenix Pharmacy. Talk with Ralph Miles Liquidators about shifting their model to more of a ReBuilding Center style operation – complete with a storefront improvement, encourage your friends to lease office space in the upper floors of the vacant buildings in the area.

    And, I know some folks are attached to the idea, but really, can we stop referring to 63rd as the “heart of Foster”. It really short sells the rest of the areas along Foster. Foster is more like a worm with 5 hearts all along its length. I propose we start calling 63rd something like the Laurelwood District, or go back to calling it Arleta.

  7. jlg6280 says:

    I have again sent an email to New Seasons about this property. I think everyone else should too. Though they are sinking their resources into another big store (se 32/Broadway) – I think our location is a great anchor site for “outer” SE Portland. And its along a major traffic way. And there is parking and a light. The bones are there. I also recommended they come to the FoPo sites (FU and FOPOpdx)……..just so they can see that things are happening here.

  8. kurt says:

    I’m familar with the bobwhite and the Mercado but what is going on with the Day Theater?

  9. Robert Bierma says:

    I think it is wise what the PDC is doing with a startup competition on for the central eastside. They are trying to make a community of innovation and entrepreneurship and there is lots of evidence that shows this works best when there are lots of creative businesses and individuals in close proximity to each other.

    That beings said I think the PDC could do more and could be more creative in fostering new business along foster. I do think Cora Potters point about the need for more skin in the game (ie, internal/neighborhood capital) is a good one. To that point this is an idea I have had for a little while that I think could solve that problem and really get the ball rolling in this neighborhood.

    The formation of a neighborhood development corporation (NDC). It could act as the gap financier for projects along foster. Providing that 10-25% of the project capital that pushes all the other parties over the edge and make make them get on board. It would invest in business startup and expansion. As well as property renovation and development. Since it would be from the perspective of the community it would look at the triple bottom line as far as its investments. It could make project go forward the might not meet a typical investors desired return on investment, but benefit the neighborhood so much in environmental and community terms that it would justify excepting a lower return, It would also have the benefit of the neighborhood in site and would be able to find opportunities that outside investors might miss.

    Now how to fund such a entity? I would say it would be best the broader the funding from within the neighborhood. My suggestion would be for the primary funding source to come from the equity in the neighborhoods homes. I ran some numbers and if you had all the homes in the Foster-Powell and Mt Scott neighborhoods put an average of just 1% of there home values into this NDC you would have nearly 11.5 million. Then if that was leveraged with a pretty typical 30% down loan you have over 38 million in potential investment ability. I am pretty sure that sort of money would get the attention of the PDC as well as outside investors. When its all said in done it could equate to a rather large amount of investment in the neighborhood.

    As far at return on investment. I would imagine the NDC doing pretty well and generating a good return to those invested in it. The bonus though is that this level in investment in the neighborhood would likely result in the home values going up in value by more then the initial 1% invested in the NDC . So you have returned your initial investment, have a ownership stake in a the NDC, and have a more livable neighborhood. Sounds pretty good time me.

    Now I am not so naive as to think this would be as simple as I just stated. In fact it would likely be quite difficult and take a long time to set up. The biggest difficulty being trying to get so many individuals to collectively pull there financial resources together. But with such high upside potential I think the idea is at least worth further exploration. A neighborhoods vitality is already mainly influenced by those in the neighborhood. This is just a mechanism by where resources are pull together and the neighborhood can take advantage of economies of scale and coordinated investment.

    I would love to hear what people think and suggestion of how this could be set up differently to come closer to an actually workable solution for this and other neighborhoods.

    p.s. A while back the was a post about increasing the percent of money spent in the neighborhood. It also helps to increase the percent of our investments in the neighborhood.

    • Nick Falbo says:

      I really like the idea of a NDC as presented here. Groups like this can provide development that the market or conventional financing wouldn’t normally gamble on. ROSE CDC has done some work in the Foster area, and perhaps we’d be better off courting them to work on more Foster projects rather than try to compete? Either way, we need some sort of community-minded group to jump on opportunities to revitalize the commercial nodes.

  10. Messy says:

    And, I know some folks are attached to the idea, but really, can we stop referring to 63rd as the “heart of Foster”.

    I am not trying to be disrespectful. But, the official streetscape blue prints from the city, calls this area the “heart of foster”. The blue prints shows a metal arch over Foster at 65th Ave. It is how the city id’s each area to develop, and would be to confusing to change the names. For example 72nd and Foster is called the “green zone” I believe. 82nd and foster has another name as does the area around 92nd and Foster. You can google for the blueprints to look at what I am writing about. It is a 64+ page document, maybe longer.

  11. Cora Potter says:

    Messy, I’ve read that document in its entirety many times. The city may have adopted that terminology, but the name came from the committee- which was a large majority of people who rarely ventured east of 72nd (at the time). The landscape has changed a lot since then, and I think it’s more important to think holistically about Foster and be equitable in our support, rather than to try to let people think that once they’ve seen 63rd, they’ve seen all of/the best of what Foster has to offer.

  12. Messy says:

    RE: Dollar Store at SE 67th and Foster.

    I had a conversation with the store manager Tim of this store today. He states that Dollar Store has absolutly no plans to close down or move. So the rumor is untrue about them closing. (As a side note, he noted the sell Soy milk). Now I have somewhere close by to buy it, when I run out. Yea!

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