I never meant to go there as a reporter, I just wanted to see what was going on. I was curious to see how such a well-planned city acted when it set policy and asked for input. I also wanted to see if they were serious about the proposed Home Depot placement so close in to downtown, and why.
The city was asking the community if we thought a big box store was appropriate there, and if so, if Home Depot was a good fit for the area. They booked a large meeting room (actually three small rooms with the dividers removed) at the Goodwill building on SE 6th and Harrison, and the place was packed standing room only. Representatives from more neighborhood associations than I knew existed were there, as well as people who worked in local hardware stores, people who lived there and even a representative of the local skateboard community (who sensably pointed out that they had been very good neighbors for the last 14 years, and thus they really should be included in any discussions about Burnside Bridge developement, since their park is under the bridge).
The public was given the chance to speak, and the adgenda had to be extended quite a long time to give everyone a chance to give info on why this is an abysmally stupid plan (I suppose people could have spoken in favor of the plan as well, but nobody seemed to be so inclined). The city's position is that
A) this is a very hard chunk of land to develop due to lack of interest,
B) not many anchors would want to move in here,
C) they really want to do this.
The public's positions are far too many for me to type here, and far too complex to accurately recall, but here are some highlights that I overheard:
A) This store would kill off a few dozen local hardware, paint, lumber and DIY shops
B) Something like $0.63 of every dollar spent in HD stores goes to Georgia
C) They are staunchly anti-union
D) They are matched by Lowes stores whenever they build, so this is not ONE but TWO stores we are looking at
E) They will add around 6,000 cars a day in traffic to the area
F) They do not have many full-time, family wage jobs per square foot of use, as opposed to other stores.
G) They need a huge parking lot, since nobody can carry home plywood on the bus. A
H) They have given around $1,500,000 to Bush's election campaign
I) Home Depot copies Wal-Mart's "seven mile" strategy*: to have one store every seven miles
J) A Home Depot store is not really the image that part of Portland wants to have.
The people chairing the meeting seemed to be OK, but the rep from the PDC seemed to totally disregard all the input. At the close of the meeting he seemed 100% unphased, and repeated his statements about this basically being the only option to develope that area since no other large investor wants it.
More meetings will be scheduled in the future, and the city claims to not be locked into a deal at this point (but have not even hinted at there being an alternative to Home Depot in downtown).
* The "seven mile" strategy goes on the assumption that people will always be willing to travel 3.5 miles to save a few bucks or go to a store with name recognition. The application of it is thus: Build a store at one end of town, then build a store at the other end. Fill in the middle to result in a corridor of one store every seven miles that cuts the urban area in half, then branch out from the sides until the area is saturated with one store every seven miles. Inside this area, no competitor will be able to operate because every person in this area is only 3.5 miles from the nearest Home Depot and their savings/selection. The Burnside Bridge idea will link the Vancouver store, Jantzen Beach store and SE 82nd St. Store into the "corridor" that will divide the city.
It is a simple and effective "divide and conquor" strategy. To see how this works, look at Oklahoma City, which has over 30 wal-marts in the metro area. This is the eventual marketing goal of all big box stores, based on sound marketing and effective business practices that have been proven to work.