Last month, Portland City Council accepted a $352,000 grant from the U.S. Small Business Administration for the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability (BPS) to study opportunities to broaden and diversity the City’s historic preservation programs to better recognize places of social and cultural importance. This work will prioritize development of strategies aimed at preserving longtime community institutions such as retail businesses, production facilities and gathering places—many of which have long been overlooked for landmark designation despite their significance to community identity.
In the course of documenting and designating under-represented historic resources in recent years, BPS staff have received requests to expand the City’s existing historic preservation functions to support the protection of not just physical buildings associated with under-represented histories, but also living institutions that have long served Portland’s diverse communities. Businesses such Dean’s Barber Shop and Beauty Salon, George’s Shoe Repair and Ota Tofu have been part of Portland’s social, economic and cultural fabric for decades. This new grant will allow the City to explore emergent ideas to support the ongoing preservation of such “legacy businesses.”
With an emphasis on businesses and institutions owned by and serving communities of color, LGBTQ+ Portlanders, and under-represented neighborhoods, the grant-funded project will allow the City of Portland to study existing legacy business programs in other cities, analyze a range of policy alternatives that would better protect Portland’s legacy businesses, and develop recommended actions for City Council consideration. The study is expected to be completed by late 2025.
The Small Business Administration grant award was facilitated by U.S. Senators Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden, who included funding for the project in the 2023 Consolidated Appropriations Act.
“The City of Portland is grateful to Senator Wyden and Senator Merkley for their support of the Legacy Business Preservation Project, which will prioritize the designation and culturally specific protection of African American, Asian American, and LGBTQ+ historic resources,” said Portland City Commissioner Carmen Rubio.
Legacy business programs
In recent years, the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability has collaborated with property owners and partner organizations to diversify the list of historic resources included in the citywide Historic Resources Inventory. Specifically, this pivot has prioritized the designation and protection of African American, Asian American, and LGBTQ+ historic resources. The designation of such resources guards against erasure, provides economic opportunities to owners and tenants, and ensures that Portlanders of all backgrounds have an opportunity to learn from and address past inequities. However, Portland’s historic resources programs have traditionally focused on physical places like buildings, parks, and structures and not necessarily the intangible activities, events and traditions that have long occupied those places.
“In recent years, retail services, fraternal clubs, and culturally specific restaurants and bars that historically served under-represented communities have been among the most vulnerable to involuntary displacement in the city,” said Commissioner Rubio. “This program will provide a menu of resources and protections to support the ongoing operation of diverse institutions.”
Studying, analyzing and bringing forward recommendations related to legacy business preservation will deepen the City’s understanding of the long-term needs and vulnerabilities of institutions that have historically served under-represented communities in the city. Portland’s project follows similar efforts in San Francisco, San Antonio, and elsewhere that aim to protect living intergenerational historic resources from displacement and/or closure.
A variety of local organizations supported the City’s request for federal grant funding. “Such a program recognizes the importance of sustaining and preserving local small businesses that contribute to Portland's economy and make up the fabric of Portland's rich culture and heritage,” said Oregon Black Pioneers' Zachary Stocks in a letter to Portland’s congressional delegation in support of the grant application.
With grant funding in hand, BPS will coordinate with interested parties to design a project approach that best represents and responds to the needs of Portland’s longstanding small businesses and other community-serving institutions. Opportunities for community participation and feedback will be provided in 2024 and 2025. The project is expected to conclude in late 2025, at which time the City will consider possible implementation of one or more programs designed to protect historically significant legacy businesses.