Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler announced a “90-day reset” in the Central Eastside Industrial District on Tuesday in response to Salt & Straw’s announcement last week that it would leave Portland if safety conditions didn’t improve outside its Southeast Portland headquarters in the district.
The iconic ice cream company’s concerns unleashed a wave of grievances from other business owners, many of whom filled the Eastside Exchange ballroom Tuesday night in a meeting with the mayor to demand solutions to homeless encampments and crime in the district. The Central Eastside Industrial Council convened the meeting, which it billed as a listening session.
“I’m not here to snub you tonight, I’m here to acknowledge the severity of the challenges we’re facing,” Wheeler said.
The “reset” would be similar to a project implemented in Old Town in May, and it would sweep homeless camps and possibly increase police presence in the area, Wheeler said.
At the meeting, Wheeler said he supported the re-evaluation of current rules for involuntarily committing people with severe mental illness, and state Rep. Rob Nosse, D-Portland, said the state may consider lowering those requirements.
Salt & Straw isn’t the only high-profile Portland business with complaints about Portland’s business climate.
Darren Marshall, CEO of Smith Teamaker, said his industrial district business has dealt for months with human feces in the streets, break ins, assaults and cars being broken into. He asked Wheeler why businesses should decide to stay in Portland. Wheeler urged patience.
“What I’m expecting for you as a business leader and an employer to see is a reduction in the crime rate.” Wheeler said. “I expect your employees to report to you that they don’t feel threatened coming to work.”
Clare Briglio, executive director of the council, said that safety concerns have been brewing for some time, but an RV fire outside of Revant Optics and Salt & Straw over a week ago ignited a call for action. Smash-and-grabs and other safety problems also have struck businesses outside the district, including in the Pearl where a thief or thieves last week backed a car into the front doors of REI.
Briglio highlighted the economic strain that these safety concerns put on businesses, and said that many employees have felt unsafe coming to work in the area.
“When we talk about resilience and business resilience, that language came out of disruption and remaining flexible and pivoting, but there’s only so much a business can do if workers don’t feel safe,” Briglio said.
– Austin De Dios; [email protected]; (503) 319-9744
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