City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty and the Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT) are attempting to make the city’s COVID-era plazas and dining patios permanent. In a Monday morning press conference, Hardesty announced that she is “directing PBOT to begin the transition to making this program permanent,” continuing to offer free permits through August 31. However, Hardesty noted that to bring her plans to fruition, the rest of Portland’s city council needs to approve PBOT’s proposed budget.
“We are building community one street at a time with these plazas,” Hardesty says. “This is a big win for Portland.”
In May 2020, the City of Portland announced programs that would allow businesses to build makeshift outdoor dining rooms in portions of the street, to replace the lost business from the indoor dining shutdown; the Healthy Businesses program specifically allowed businesses to open private patios in street-side parking spaces, while the Street Side Plaza program allowed multiple businesses to collaborate with PBOT to close full city blocks for shared seating and pedestrian access. More than 1,000 businesses applied for these permits, building decks in street parking spaces and fences along these makeshift plazas. A year into the program, the city conducted a survey to gauge residents’ feelings about the new plazas and patios; 94 percent of respondents felt that the outdoor dining areas should remain open.
Eli Johnson, the co-owner of local pizzeria chain Atlas Pizza and SE Clinton bar Dots, was one of the local business owners who spoke at the press conference; Johnson has utilized outdoor patio spaces and plazas at a number of his businesses, including Dots and Five & Dime. “All five of my businesses would have closed if it weren’t for this program from the city,” Johnson says.
The Portland Bureau of Transportation is asking city council for $6 million to cover three years of the Healthy Businesses program, covering the required staffing, a subsidy to reduce the future cost of permits, and the development of design standards for these outdoor dining areas, to make sure they’re ADA accessible and don’t cause safety risks. PBOT is asking for an additional $2 million specifically for the plaza program, to help build and maintain plazas around the city.