This Must Be Foodie Hell

What you see above is all that’s left of Portland’s biggest – and my personal favorite – food cart pod.

It’s fate has been known for the last year or so, since the owner of the lot it sat upon announced future development plans. What remained unknown was the timing as the local business press kept the curious up to speed on the plans for the site.

What came to pass was design approval for Portland’s fifth tallest building and first five-star hotel.

So, on this past May 31st the business owners at the 10th & Washington food cart pod were notified that their last day of occupancy would be June 30th.

30 friggin’ days!

What a crushing bit of news for the thousands of folk that made a meal at this pod a part of their routine.

Bad news for the businesses, too, one would imagine.

That said, there were a couple of really big unknowns accompanying the announcement.

A) who exactly this five-star tenant would be. It’s not that it wasn’t announced, it’s that no five-star hotel has expressed interest in or accepted the opportunity to partner in the finances involved in a project of this scope.

Yup, the owners of the land evicted the tenants without financing for the project. Which brings me to the larger issue here,

2) where are the displaced food carts to go?

Thirty days isn’t much time to secure a place in any of the other pods – even though Portland is crawling with pods. The thing that made this pod so successful, aside from location, was the following its carts engendered. I can’t tell you the number of times I took friends to my personal fave, Bing Mi, or recommended it to visitors from out of town.

As a matter of fact, that was how I heard of the cart in the first place!

Anyway, a few carts had used the vaguely looming deadline as a chance to find a new place and move on their own terms. The former square of outward facing food windows had started to show a few gaps, but it was far from looking like a hillbilly smile.

The end result was the same, though – come July 1st…no more pod.

During our last coffee klatch or two of June, the Silver Fox and I had discussed the rumored future for the displaced carts. It was exciting to consider since it would directly benefit us, even though the chance of happening without disruption to business as usual was exactly zero percent.

The rumor was that the city had proposed moving the pod into the Couch and Davis side streets of the North Park Blocks. Remember, the northwest quadrant of the city that I live in is called the Alphabet District because the street names are in alphabetical order. For context, The Fox and I live on opposite sides of the Park Blocks between Everett and Flanders.

Yup, the proposal from the city would land the pod one to two blocks from our homes.

The shit thing for the businesses affected is that with more harmonious planning, the city could have laid out the minimal infrastructure changes – power and traffic flow – needed beforehand while the carts were simultaneously able to notify their loyal customers of their new location.

Actually, I misspoke earlier – the city was proposing lining the actual park blocks with the carts by placing them in the parking spaces on the park side of the street facing the park itself.

The plus side here was that it would drive foot traffic into the urban park blocks, which the city considers to be underutilized. I swear, that’s bureaucratic-speak for “an increase in regular citizen traffic would probably create a decrease in urban campers”…aka: Portland’s much maligned homeless.

The side street idea was mine. It came from a couple of issues, of both my own making as well as reporting on the potential project.

The city spends a lot of money each year on planting and replanting grass in the park blocks. No sooner does the initial reseeding effort bear grass than the summer parade/festival season begin, starting with Pride and the International Beer Festival in June and ending with Art In The Park in late August. Lining the blocks with park-facing carts is just going to cause more damage to the parks.

For its part, the city seemed concerned about a loss of parking meter revenue – and parking ticket revenue, I’m sure!

For my part, I don’t care about parking revenue. I do care about where I can get my Bing Mi!

Gimme regular, uninterrupted access to a Bing Mi and nobody gets hurt.

My plan of using side streets for the carts might do nothing to reduce any parking revenue impact this proposition creates, but it has another positive impact. Namely, eliminating traffic trauma for drivers unfamiliar with Portland downtown traffic.

You see, the North Park Blocks are bordered by 8th – a one way street that runs southward – and Park – another one way street that runs northward. Most of the side streets are two way. For whatever reason, this confuses drivers and The Fox and I spend a lot of time watching drivers go the wrong way down one way streets.

It’s really quite surprising, the frequency. More so, the number of times someone realizes their mistake and corrects it by turning the wrong way onto another one way street in order to make things right.

People.

Anyway, both Couch and Davis are two way streets. Lining those blocks with carts and making them one way would allow the city to make the approach blocks one way in a manner that allowed only right hand turns onto or off of the park blocks, eliminating confusion. Looking at you, Vantucky Drivers.

Where’s my damn Nobel Prize?

But this is all in the planning stage still. A phase I’m sure will outlast the displaced carts’ ability to remain out of business. Oh, and it’s worth repeating that these carts were displaced by construction and that half of the block between Burnside and Couch is due for demolition (an old Bridgestone service center) for construction of a new apartment building in the next year-ish.

So, where are the carts in the interim?

I don’t know, exactly, however I did discover this little hiding place the other day one a walk.

We’ll get to the markup in that photo in a second. First, this…

That mural says Market of the Future. It’s decorating the street side of the parking lot those food carts are parked on.

The lot itself is the backlot of the downtown US Post Office’s sorting facility. For context you’ll need soon enough, the Post Office complex runs three blocks wide from Hoyt Street to Lovejoy Street, enveloping Irving, Johnson and Kearney Streets.

The back story there is that the city decided not to renew the government’s lease on the nine square blocks between Hoyt/Lovejoy and Broadway/9th in favor of development for housing and retail space.

Oh, and an extension of the North Park Blocks!

The US government – as a result of this eviction – proactively moved its sort facility to a new industrial development out by the airport. Now the former urban sort facility sits empty except for the walk up customer service counter and PO Boxes which basically occupies the storefront space on Hoyt between Broadway and 8th Street.

This has been the only functional part of the business for quite some time.

Long enough, actually, that one day while accompanying me on a trip to my PO Box, The Fox decided to go up to the counter and demand of the poor associate an explanation for the delay in development.

He returned with an actual explanation, stopping my smug chuckling at the futility of his mission.

It turns out, the crafty US government had written into its contract a provision which I’m sure was meant to discourage eviction by the city. Namely, if the city sought to terminate its lease, they needed to find a similar sized customer service store front with 25 parking spaces within ten blocks of the current site.

Well played, US government…well played.

Maybe 20 years ago the city could have pulled this off, including on my very block. Unfortunately, now the three abandoned warehouses on my block have been replaced with a Hampton hotel.

Most other blocks within that pre-ordained 10 block radius have already been developed. Indeed, the nine square block parcel the Post Office complex is on is the largest and nearly only undeveloped parcel within the Pearl District.

But now that the sort facility has moved, most of that parcel is derelict. There’s signs of the city trying to repurpose the space in the interim, but keep in mind that about six of the nine blocks are occupied by empty structures. The remaining three are abandoned employee and truck parking.

Cleverly, to that end:

But that is only one of the three blocks of parking. The food carts are on one of the other blocks at the far end of the parcel. From the looks of that mural, one (me) could reasonably assume that perhaps the city is planning some sort of urban market that would incorporate food carts into it.

The wrinkle here?

The mural says, “Coming summer 2019” and its approaching mid-July.

Also, Portland’s Saturday Market is practically blocks away on the waterfront. Sure, maybe this Market if the Future would be open every day…still.

Never fear, Galby is here to save the day by solving everyone’s problems.

So, back to the markup…

That “separate back building” is on the back third of the nine block parcel between Kearney and Lovejoy streets.

There’s only the teensiest little overlap of the main building with this back third of the parcel. Methinks that could be demolished and closed off with minimal impact to the remaining customer service windows located on the first third.

The paid parking in the middle block could remain operational and likely have plenty of customers on the construction crew.

Developing that back third would allow for planning a building with a ground floor retail footprint that included with it the required parking spaces so the Post Office could move, allowing development of the remaining two thirds of the parcel.

The thing is that the city didn’t know know what it wanted to do with the area. Sure, they know they needed housing solutions within the downtown core. Then the whole Amazon HQ2 thing came along.

To its credit, the city seemed to know it didn’t want that…yet knew it was expected to throw a proposal in the ring. So they did, but with tax breaks so bad they were like garlic to the tax-dodging vampire that is Amazon, ensuring we were never a serious contender.

Since then, the city has begun posting plans around the parcel – sorry for the tightness of this shot, but it’s a picture of a nine block development plan on a piece of 8×11 copy paper…

For placement context, that dark black structure is the Broadway Bridge and it’s at the northeast corner of the parcel. Broadway itself runs on the east side of the Post Office, but the bridge actually ends with Broadway forking off onto Lovejoy Street as well, which borders the north side of the parcel, or the back third that I was talking about developing first to move the whole project forward.

From the perspective of a person with virtually zero knowledge of either urban planning or construction – ignorance is so liberating! – it seems doable. Further to the upside, that back third is the only part of the project that has buildings on all three blocks. The remaining two thirds will have buildings on their outer blocks, but the center blocks will be the extension of the North Park Blocks I mentioned earlier.

The potential benefit there is that starting with the back third would mean that three of the seven blocks with buildings planned on them would be done first. That’s 43% of the construction, meaning that work would progress away from the most labor intense phase. Somehow in my mind this means less whining about construction noise from the new buildings’ residents but I’m having trouble quantifying my argument.

Something about the remaining 57% of the project being divided into fourths for the impact of the two blocks adjacent to the Lovejoy blocks and then in half again for the development of the Irving blocks in the final third phase…but I’m so distracted by my craving for a Bing Mi right now that I can’t get there.

Meanwhile, in the interim I’ve got no Bing, thousands of others are missing out on their favorite carts from the 10th & Wa pod and were in a holding pattern on both the development of the Post Office blocks and the new five star hotel.

Lose, lose, lose…how is it that when we lose things – like my favorite food cart pod – it happens quickly yet when we gain things, it comes so slowly? Rhetorical questions aside, though, with so little happening so slowly, the positives that we gain will likely feel like winning the lottery when they do finally happen.

This Must Be Foodie Hell

6 thoughts on “This Must Be Foodie Hell

  1. The $ people could care less where the rest of us eat, or how we make a living or how we are entertained or what we cherish. There are people in the world who are foolish enough to think $ matters. To them I say take the memories you ruined and stuff your money in your casket, see how far it takes you.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Sadly, I can’t disagree…even in Portland, it happens. And there’s got to be an irony in how our free weekly rag is what manages to take these corrupt politicians down versus MSM. Willamette Week has quite a history of being there for scandals from basic financials to more seedy sex scandals…c’mon, Goldschmidt, the babysitter?!? Basic.

        Liked by 1 person

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