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‘A new Portland’: PBA president talks downtown’s post-pandemic recovery

By Ken BoddieMichaela Bourgeois,


PORTLAND, Ore. ( KOIN ) – The Portland Business Alliance , Portland’s Chamber of Commerce, recently released two reports on the state of the economy and the state of downtown and the central city.

The report finds leisure and hospitality is starting to come back from the pandemic with more than 10% job growth in 2022 in Multnomah County.

However, the report says Portlanders are moving out of the city, mainly to Vancouver as Portland’s population has dropped by more than 12,000 in 2022 – accounting for a loss of $117 million in revenue for Multnomah County.

“I think it’s concerning, obviously, to lose population. It’s voting with your feet, is the message that sends and you need population growth to sustain a general increase in your taxes and the government to supply basic services and help grow the economy,” Portland Business Alliance President and CEO Andrew Hoan told KOIN 6 News.

One reason for the migration is local business taxes increasing to 32% over the past three years, PBA said.

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“Population loss is not a good thing, and really, this is on the heels of almost three decades of unmitigated population growth. So, we’re seeing a quick departure from our past experiences and that is alarming,” Hoan explained.

While some are not returning downtown after the pandemic, the city also faces a 26% downtown office vacancy rate.

“Yes, we will come back. The idea that downtowns across the nation are done is just a false narrative. The elements that are important to business are not shocking, they are livability issues, about having basic public safety, about having a welcoming environment and about having a supportive tax structure. Those things are necessary and they’re basic,” Hoan said.

Hoan explained how the pandemic took a toll on the city as leaders balanced the public health emergency.

“We will see a return to our center city, and we have to remember we were one of the first into the pandemic’s restrictions that really exacerbated the overall experience of the office core, saved lives simultaneously, and one of the last out. So, we’re really behind the game because we prioritized public health here in this region,” Hoan said.

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He added, “moving forward, yeah, we’re going to have to rethink how downtown looks. It will be different and that’s an opportunity.”

The PBA president says the city will have to “rethink how downtown looks” which gives an opportunity for the Rose City to densify its population and say to employers, “you matter, we want to keep you here and we’re willing to do what it takes to enhance our economy to incentivize employers to come to the crown jewel of the state’s economy, which is downtown Portland.”

Moving forward, Hoan suggests leaders spend tax dollars accountably and need to focus on issues like homelessness and public safety adding, “I think that’s what the business community wants to see is that the Supportive Services Housing Measure money, to help end our homelessness crisis, makes a visible, noticeable difference on our streets.”

He added, “the public safety issues, we need to get a handle on that. That means having accountable public safety and criminal justice in our community. That has to be prioritized. So, making sure that the resources that have been allocated and that we are taxed are spent and done so in an urgent matter, that people see the visible manifestation.”

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Secondly, Hoan says Portland needs “an all-hands-on-deck approach to getting the economy back on track.”

“That means city, county, state and federal government. Let’s not let our partners and higher governments off the hook here, we’re in distress right now and we do need layering of support for things like incentives,” Hoan said.

This includes recent Portland city council ordinances that make it easier to convert unused office space into affordable housing , Hoan explained.

“It’s great. This is just the beginning and I think it should be celebrated where you have a city council leaning into just one of the tools that we need to have here in downtown, and really actually across our entire city,” Hoan said.

He furthered, “what I was most impressed by is the city council saying, ‘Hey, we’re not going even far enough.’ And so, we need about 10 more similar ordinances to make sure we have an absolute streamline path towards building new housing here in our center city, opening up new retail locations.”

“It is absolutely reprehensible that it would take longer to open up a little mom and pop retail shop than it would be to start a tech company in your dorm room here. We cannot have that. It’s inequitable and we need to cut through that red tape.”

Hoan says Portland west end is a good example for other parts of the city, highlighting the opening of the Ritz Carlton Hotel .

“If anyone wants to count Portland out, I would just point them over the Ritz Carlton, we’re getting our first five-star hotel here in the city. So, people think Portland’s on its way out, I’d say you need to do a little bit of a gut check here because we’re building, we’re coming back, there are good stories, we need to get our swagger back and it’s part of it by recognizing the good that is happening.”

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In five to 10 years, he sees “a new Portland. It’s one that went through some tough times, and I think people here haven’t experienced this level of challenge in a long time.” He added, “the self-hating, the self-loathing needs to go away. Portland’s going to be alright and it’s going to recover differently.”

As Portland recovers, Hoan said he has seen changes like younger demographics visiting downtown at night and during weekends.

Overall, he says, “we have to course correct, or in five years, we could be in a place that looks like a Cleveland, that looks like a Columbus if we don’t take immediate action. Some of these things are happening right now, the way the governor is intervening in a very serious way, we have not seen that before. There has been a hands-off approach to Portland before because it was doing well. It was three decades of success but that’s not where we are right now.”

“We need everybody to be supportive of a Portland recovery because give me an example of a state in this nation that’s seen its flagship city in decline, not suffer the same consequences.”

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