Healthy Businesses plan unfolding on Northwest 13th Avenue
By Allan Classen
Plans to make Northwest 13th Avenue a center for properly distanced outdoor dining are proceeding, but like much in the age of the coronavirus, nothing is coming easy.
The Healthy Businesses program administered by the Portland Bureau of Transportation has several options for taking restaurants and retailing to the streets. The most ambitious, the Main Street Plaza, which prohibits all vehicle traffic, is being implemented on several blocks of 13th Avenue through the Pearl District Business Association and Friends of the Green Loop.
PDBA Executive Director Julie Gustafson said the city is doing all it can in uncertain times.
“Every time I think we’re ready to launch, something comes up,” Gustafson said. “It’s a learning curve and we’re trying to throw it together in a hurry. … Closing streets is a pretty big deal.”
PDBA applied for the program in June and its plans were approved in early July. Then they learned that all residences and businesses in the area would have to be notified directly. The governor’s delay on Phase I COVID-19 protocols was another wrinkle.
The latest estimate for opening on 13th Avenue is mid-August, she said.
The plan encompasses Everett to Irving streets with one exception—the block between Flanders and Glisan, where frequent deliveries make a full closure impossible.
Participating businesses include Mediterranean Exploration Co., 10 Barrel Brewing Co., Von Ebert Brewing, Brix Tavern, Two Wrongs, Keen, River Pig Saloon, Papi Chulo’s, The Star and MONTESACRO Pinseria Romana PDX.
Breweries may go together for a beer garden. While all businesses would close by 10 p.m., Gustafson said the beer garden would probably close earlier.
One major 13th Avenue restaurant that won’t be part of the system is Tilt, which closed at the end of June. The sign on the front door says closed temporarily due to COVID-19, but the phone has been disconnected.
Small-scale art exhibits organized by the Urban Art Network will also be held once a week. Gustafson said these will be very small, with perhaps four or five artists, and in no way will resemble First Thursdays of the past.
“Safety, not crowds, is primo,” she said.
“It’s a great idea,” Glenn Traeger, a PDNA board member, said of plans for 13th. “Anything the neighborhood can do to help our businesses get up on their feet we should do.”
The first stage of the Healthy Businesses program ends Oct. 31. A second stage with more businesses of all types could come later, but Gustafson said long-range plans are not at the top of her mind now.
The Pearl District Neighborhood Association, on the other hand, is looking ahead to a more permanent transformation of 13th Avenue. A reimagining of the avenue that would also go in the direction of reducing auto access and encouraging greater activation of public space began last year in conjunction with Better Block PDX and Oregon Walks.