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The Future of Outdoor Seating & Street Plazas in Portland

News Article
Group photo including Commissioner Hardesty, PBOT Director Chris Warner, PBOT staff, and small business owners.

Earlier this week I was honored to join PBOT staff, community members, and small business owners at Pride Plaza downtown to make an exciting announcement about the future of PBOT’s Healthy Businesses Outdoor Seating and Street Plazas programs. Our participants included Chris Warner, Director of PBOT, Eli Johnson, co-owner of Atlas Pizza, 5 & Dime and Dots Cafe, Neil Mattson, President of the Montavilla/East Tabor Business Association, and Naomi Pomeroy, James Beard award-winning chef and owner of Ripe Cooperative.

The big announcement: I have directed the Portland Bureau of Transportation to begin the transition to making both programs permanent in City code! PBOT’s Healthy Businesses Outdoor Seating Program will also continue free of charge until the end of August. Both programs are currently temporary and were created in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

As you read on to learn more, I want to make one thing very clear: While PBOT will now be preparing for a permanent transition - whether or not these two programs continue after the end of August depends on Council fulfilling PBOT’s budget ask. So please, if you read this email and like what you see, reach out to me and my colleagues on City Council, reach out to local media, and let us know that you want to see these these programs funded.


PBOT banner at entrance to Pride Plaza reads "Welcome! Thanks for shopping & dining local. Safe Streets Healthy Businesses. PBOT. Travel Portland." Includes a picture of a unicorn and sloth.

Healthy Businesses Outdoor Seating

Picture of Pride Plaza. Visable is a bright green bike lane, outdoor seating, and colorful art.

Following the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, PBOT staff sprang into action to support our small business community and transformed the sidewalk cafes program to allow businesses to use on-street parking spaces and plazas on side streets. More than 1,000 Portland businesses got permits. I know I loved seeing them all over Portland. Public surveys say Portlanders loved them as well, with 94% of survey respondents wanting to see the program continue into the future.

Due to the pandemic, PBOT made these permits free of charge by using Council approved federal COVID-19 funds to cover our costs. Recognizing this incredible work, last week Travel Portland, the city's tourism promotion organization, awarded the PBOT programs with the "Portland Award," which recognizes the greatest overall contribution to Portland’s “Visitor Industry" in 2021.

On Monday, I directed PBOT to begin the transition to making this program permanent. I also announced we will be extending the free permits through August 31st. After that, the hope is to establish a new permanent program starting September 1st that will have to include a fee for this to be sustainable. However, what those fees will be, and whether this program continues, will all depend on Council budget decisions.

Public Street Plazas

PBOT Welcome sign at beginning of Pride Plaza. Sign reads "Welcome. All are welcome here! This public street plaza is a neighborhood gathering space open to all, with public seating, activities, and space for business and community uses."
Photo by Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT)

Every neighborhood should have a welcoming outdoor gathering space where community members can come together. As we emerge from this terrible pandemic, I am determined to create a Portland that is a more resilient, more inclusive, more equitable place than it was before.

Last summer I enjoyed visiting the Dream Street Plaza off NE Martin Luther King, and the Montavilla Plaza on SE 79th Avenue, where I saw local businesses, artists, families, and friends gather, smile, and enjoy their time together.

Collage of pictures of Commissioner Hardesty at the Dream Street Plaza in Northeast Portland.

For these plazas, PBOT was not just issuing permits: PBOT partnered with community groups. In some cases, PBOT brought grant money to help cover some community expenses.

The Public Street Plazas program also has high public support, with 94% of survey respondents in support of keeping street space open for plazas beyond 2021. Additionally, 89% of survey respondents said the plazas contributed to a safe and vibrant area.

We are looking forward to a year of more partnerships and grant opportunities, especially for our BIPOC communities that suffered most during the pandemic.

Community organizations and businesses can fill out a form online to express your interest in partnering with PBOT on a plaza this year.


Additionally, PBOT has a new community survey to gather feedback about the future of Street Plazas.


Grant Opportunities

In a related action, the Mayor’s Office, Council, and PBOT collaborated on American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding for individuals, small businesses and non-profits impacted by the pandemic to create a new initiative.

The initiative will provide direct financial support for those who build community event experiences, small business events and art activations with a priority to events led by Black, Indigenous, and People of Color and those centering cross-cultural collaboration.

These funds are designed to reinvigorate community spaces across the city of Portland by increasing foot traffic, encouraging community participation, and providing opportunities for people to gather and connect.

Make Your Voice Heard!

If you are reading this right now and would like us to make our Healthy Businesses Outdoor Seating and Public Street Plazas permanent in city code with fair permit fees, reach out to me and my colleagues and express your support.

This is a big win for Portland, and I’m hopeful as a Council and a community we will make this happen.

If we all work together, we can keep this going.

Thank you,

Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty

Picture of Commissioner Hardesty smiling at a podium while wearing a blue "PBOT" jacket.