The new edition of Portland State University’s Real Estate Quarterly is hot off the presses, and this issue has a piece by PSU professor William Macht arguing that Portland is suffering from a downtown retail conundrum:
“We have too much ground floor area seeking too much retail space from too few retailers, who seek to sell too many non-essential goods to too few customers, who increasingly have too little money to buy them and too little space in which to store them.” Other than that, though, everything is great.
Macht cites recent efforts by the mayor’s office and the Portland Development Commission focusing on the downtown retail core, “branding it and putting gateways onto it.” But rather than one retail core for all of downtown, we instead have many smaller retail cores that are too fragmented:
- The downtown retail core, currently defined as SW 2nd to SW 12th Avenues, Washington to Salmon Streets;
- The Brewery Blocks, the retail heart of the 45 blocks of the South Pearl district, from West Burnside to NW Glisan, Broadway to I-405;
- A growing retail corridor on NW Lovejoy from I-405 to NW 9th serving the 45 blocks of the central Pearl district;
- The Museum Place Safeway at SW 10th and Jefferson, acting as the seed for a retail core for the 40 blocks of southwest end of downtown.
- The 48 blocks east of the South Park Blocks between SW Salmon and SW Market that are built around a line of four full-block parks between SW 3rd and 4th Avenues
- The 48 blocks south of Market Street, east of the South Park Blocks, plus the four blocks of University Place
- The 16 blocks at RiverPlace, which comprose a small but isolated retail core.
That's not even mentioning all the retail aggregating on the east side on principal arterial streets like Burnside, Hawthorne, Alberta, Belmont, Fremont, Mississippi and Division.
Rather than a marketing or advertising solution for downtown Portland, what the city instead needs is a consolidation strategy to move retailers to a Broadway corridor.
“It is unrealistic to think that retail space can ever be the public activator that many planners and civic boosters have hoped,” Macht goes on. “Furthermore, we have spent too little time thinking about other ways to activate and use ground level space."
Why make Broadway the connecting retail thread for Portland and focus retail development there?
“Broadway is the most accessible street in the center of downtown with three lanes of through traffic plus continuous parking lanes on both sides of the street,” Macht says. “Stores are very visible and accessible through its entire length. And it is the only downtown street that connects to two major freeways at each end making access to shoppers more convenient than any other. Broadway is also the natural link between the Pearl district and Old Town/Chinatown and it is the terminus of the growing Lovejoy retail corridor.”
Macht also sees the the 12 blocks of the old downtown Post Office as ideal for a major retail space. The post office intersects the Lovejoy corridor and terminates at the North Park Blocks. The size of the Post Office site, he says, could anchor larger diversified anchor retailers not represented downtown. Although that could mean a big chain store. Do we want that?
“The Broadway strategy is really one that builds on history,” the professor adds. “It is clear that Broadway was conceived as the Main Street of Portland. It is the only street in the center of the long rectangle of the city that connects across its own bridge to the east side of Portland, where it changes its course from north/south to east west. It is the street on which the main Post Office and Union Station were built, where the Federal Customs House was located, where the Benson Hotel and other main hotels were built, where the elaborate U.S. Bank and other major banks were sited, where the iconic Jackson Tower stands in the precise center of Broadway between PSU and the Post Office Blocks, and where every major theater was built.”