In the early days of the pandemic, PBOT created two new programs that provided critical, urgently needed outdoor space for business use and community gatherings
Commissioner Hardesty directs PBOT to start the transition to making the two popular programs permanent, helping communities embrace street space as public gathering space
Operation in the streets beyond this summer is contingent on City Council funding in the upcoming 2022-23 budget
(March 14, 2022) The Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT) announced today that it will extend two popular programs that were created during the COVID-19 pandemic, to help the community continue to use street space for restaurants, other businesses and community gatherings.
The free Healthy Businesses permits that were set to expire June 30 will be extended at no charge through Aug. 31, to allow more time for the city and businesses to transition to the next phase of the program. Permits starting Sept. 1 will be good through Dec. 31, 2023, and a new fee structure will provide a way to partially cover the cost of city expenses while providing space for business operations. Applications for the Sept. 1 program will be accepted starting this summer, after the City Council decides in the 2022-23 budget process how much funding should come from the city and how much from a new fee businesses would pay for the new permits--and whether the program will continue at all.
Starting today, Portland Public Street Plazas program is seeking interest from community groups that want to partner with PBOT to create plazas for community gatherings in city streets. PBOT expects to collaborate with organizations to create five to 10 plazas starting this summer, building on successes from 2021. Continuation beyond this summer is also contingent on the budget City Council sets in the coming months.
"Every neighborhood should have a welcoming place where community members can come together," Transportation Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty said. "Hundreds of small businesses have told us that operating outdoors in city streets was essential to their survival during the pandemic. We have seen many communities come together using our streets to create plazas as well. As we emerge from this terrible pandemic, I am determined to create a Portland is a more inclusive, more equitable place than it was before. So I am directing PBOT to extend these two programs and work to make them permanent, so we can use our streets for people, not just cars."
The press conference was held in the middle of Southwest Harvey Milk Street in the Pride Plaza. With colorful circles painted on the pavement, the plaza opened on Southwest Harvey Milk Street last July Fourth weekend. It is a new LGBTQ+ friendly neighborhood gathering space with street art, public seating, community activities and expanded space for businesses into the street.
Commissioner Hardesty urged the public to make their voices heard in the coming weeks about how much support the City Council should provide for these programs in the budget year that starts July 1.
"PBOT staff are well known for responding to snow and ice emergencies and landslides, and in the last two years, I'm proud that our staff stepped up to respond to the COVID-19 emergency as well," PBOT Director Chris Warner said. "For many years, we believed that street space could be safely and creatively used for community gatherings and businesses. In the pandemic, we found these programs were actually critical for people to be able to gather and stay in business while preventing the spread of COVID-19."
Eli Johnson, co-owner of Atlas Pizza, 5 & Dime and Dots Cafe, said the Healthy Businesses permits and Public Street Plazas helped him stay in business and keep his more than 60 employees working through the pandemic.
"We serve high quality pizza, food and drinks for Portlanders that like to put their money where their mouth is!" Johnson said. "We support progressive people and organizations all over this great city and have for many years! Without this street closure program providing additional seating and a safe environment for our hospitality based business to serve people we would have closed early on into this pandemic!"
Businesses in the Montavilla area, on all sides of 82nd Avenue and East Burnside, benefitted from the Healthy Businesses permits, and the Montavilla/East Tabor Business Association partnered with PBOT to create a Public Street Plaza on SE 79th Avenue last summer. More 24 businesses in the neighborhood offered outdoor dining on streets or sidewalks.
“Outdoor dining in the streets in Montavilla helped save our district during 2020 and 2021," said Neil Mattson, President of the Montavilla/East Tabor Business Association. "PBOT’s Healthy Businesses program not only enabled Montavilla restaurants and bars to stay open but in many cases increased seating capacity allowing businesses to recover some of the losses from the lockdown. Not every Montavilla business made it through 2020 but the ones that did benefited from this PBOT program.”
“Hat’s off to the PBOT plaza team, who did a great job of helping our business association plan and program our plaza street closure––our community loved it! We’re excited to collaborate on the next evolution of this program in the weeks and months to come!”
At a ceremony last week for the 42nd Annual Tourism and Hospitality Industry Awards, 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.
“The recipient of our 42nd Annual Tourism and Hospitality Industry Awards ‘Portland Award,’ the Portland Bureau of Transportation’s (PBOT) Healthy Businesses and Safe Streets Initiative have been a driving force in assisting our local businesses during a time when they needed it most,” said Travel Portland President and CEO Jeff Miller. “We are pleased to hear that steps are being taken to make these programs permanent fixtures in our community, working to provide continued access to Portland Public Plazas and enabling many businesses to continue serving visitors and locals alike with expanded outdoor dining, curbside pickup and more.”
Extension beyond this summer is contingent on council action
The continuation of Healthy Businesses permits and the Street Plazas Program beyond this summer are both contingent on funding from the Portland City Council in the upcoming 2022-23 budget.
PBOT has requested $6 million to continue the Healthy Businesses program for three years, including funding to developing design standards, public education and assistance for businesses owned by community members who are Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC). This proposal includes federal funds, funding from lost parking meter revenue and assumes a subsidy for all permitholders while phasing-in fees to be paid by permitholders starting in September.
PBOT has also requested $2 million for staff and materials through 2024 to help community groups create street plazas, provide materials for some permanent plazas and funds to reduce the cost to BIPOC community organizations.
Community survey on plazas posted online today
In 2022, PBOT will once again collaborate to create street plazas and gathering spaces throughout the city. Street Plazas are places for people to gather, socialize, and celebrate, creating more places for community and neighbor interactions.
At the same time, PBOT is working to establish a long-term Public Street Plaza program. As PBOT works on what a long-term, permanent Public Street Plaza program looks like, we’d like to hear from the community about what worked from the previous pilot seasons and what you would like to see in long-term, post COVID program.
Please take this short survey to help inform the future of the Public Street Plaza program.
An evaluation of the 2021 season found that 93% of survey respondents supported using street space for business use and 94% supported using street space for public plazas. Additionally, when asked if they felt plazas and businesses operating outdoors contributed to a safe and vibrant area, 89% of survey respondents answered that they did contribute to a safe and vibrant area. Read the full Evaluation Report on the 2021 Healthy Businesses and Public Plazas.
Vibrant and Inclusive Community Spaces events grant program
The City of Portland's Events Action Table and PBOT have teamed up to distribute American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding for individuals, small businesses and nonprofits impacted by COVID-19.
The initiative will provide direct financial support for those who build community event experiences, small business events and art activations with a priority on 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.
In addition to financial support, this subsidy program can also support applicants by matching them directly to venues (street plazas, gathering spaces, and other places) where their event may be hosted.
A total of $470,000 is available. The City intends to award support in amounts ranging from $2,500 to $10,000, depending on the complexity and length of proposed events.
Learn more, and sign up for updates on when applications will be accepted in the coming weeks at the Public Street Plazas website.
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, PBOT created the Healthy Business program to allow local businesses to creatively use street space to safely serve their customers. Since the program started in May 2020, PBOT issued over 1,050 Healthy Businesses permits free of charge to permittees. Approximately 20 precent of permits were issued to businesses owned by Black, Indigenous and other people of color.
Applications for 15-month permits that start Sept. 1 will be accepted starting in summer 2022. The program's website will be updated when applications are available.
As of March, there are many installations in the public right-of-way that are not following the conditions and guidelines established in 2020.
In the coming months, PBOT will be re-evaluating design standards. Meanwhile, the bureau will inspect structures that are believed to be non-conforming, including some that present safety issues and some that do not provide access for people with disabilities who rely on mobility devices. Inspectors will visit sites in spring and summer 2022, and where they find permitted Healthy Business installations that are out of compliance with the rules established since 2020, our first step will be to remind permitholders of the expectations and conditions.
Businesses that are found to be operating in a public street without a Healthy Businesses permit will be offered another opportunity to obtain a permit, before potential warnings and fines are pursued this summer.
To stabilize neighborhood businesses, new design and operating regulations will go into effect gradually over time. These new rules ensure access for people with disabilities, emergency response, public transit operations, and loading zones. This will minimize negative financial impacts for permit holders who need to make modifications.
The Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT) is the steward of the city’s transportation system and a community partner in shaping a livable city. We plan, build, manage, and maintain an effective and safe transportation system that provides access and mobility. Learn more at portland.gov/transportation