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Report-back from "Burnside Bridgehead" redevelopment workshop: Big Box stores out-of-favor

I attended the public workshop put on by the Portland Development Commission's "Burnside Bridgehead" Redevelopment Evaluation Committee Monday night. This two-hour event was an open house, featuring PDC staff and representatives from the three firms offering designs for the project. The "No Big Box Store" theme was running strongly among the citizen attendees, and the Portland Alliance of Worker Collectives (PAWC) issued a statement in favor of the single proposal (by Beam Construction & Management) that doesn't include one.

The room was crowded, with a constant line of newly arrived people at the check-in table the entire time I was there. I was encouraged to see that so many people in the area care about what happens in their city. How seriously the PDC takes citizen input is a question that remains to be answered, of course.

one view of the redevelopment area (outlined in orange) - from PDC website
one view of the redevelopment area (outlined in orange) - from PDC website
another view of the redevelopment area (outlined in orange) - from PDC website
another view of the redevelopment area (outlined in orange) - from PDC website
the crowd, with design displays around the walls
the crowd, with design displays around the walls
folks checking out a proposal
folks checking out a proposal
pointing out PDC projects on a map
pointing out PDC projects on a map
woman writing a comment about a proposal
woman writing a comment about a proposal
example of some comments (no
example of some comments (no "big box" store theme apparent)
a speculative view of the Beam proposal
a speculative view of the Beam proposal
Beam proposal was definitely getting more positive comments than the others
Beam proposal was definitely getting more positive comments than the others
I spoke to Laurel, a FreeGeek worker who was there to deliver the PAWC statement. PAWC is "a mutual beneficial association for Portland, Oregon area Cooperatives and Collectives" that got off the ground a little over a year ago. Though PAWC held a couple different publicity events this year (including the "World Without Bosses" bike tour), their statement today was their first dip into city politics. Some PAWC businesses are located near enough to the Burnside Bridgehead parcel that they could definitely be affected, for better or worse. PAWC's statement came out in opposition to Big Box stores in general: "These chain retailers would both erode the vibrant uniqueness of Portland and remove money from our economy. 'Big Box' chain retailers also put locally-owned small businesses at risk, based on economy of scale... Additionally, they dehumanize the work experience for those who find jobs there, and they cannot be held truly accountable to their community."

Indeed. Such sentiments were common, and the fears are well-founded. Kyle Anderson, of Gerding/Edlen -- the firm that includes a Home Depot in its proposal -- was overheard saying, "Once this side of the river gets exploited, the opportunities will be dynamite." Having the East Side and its mix of mostly small and local businesses "exploited" is not what the Portlanders who showed up want. Many neighborhood activists were in attendance -- people who follow these issues and bring them back to their neighborhood associations and community groups. The PDC would do well to listen to them; these are the people who care, and they're the ones who can be organized in their opposition to something as well.

One such activist is Emily Simon, co-chair of the Land Use Committee of the neighborhood association for Kearns, the area in which this project is sited. She and the association are opposed to any "big box" store in the redevelopment for many reasons including increased traffic and the draining of money from the local economy. Emily and many others would prefer a grocery store in the neighborhood, since there isn't a good one now. She is also concerned that redevelopment might push up home prices nearby, and drive away new homeowners. Kearns is still an affordable place to buy a home, by Portland standards, Emily says. Like PAWC, the Kearns Neighborhood Association is in favor of the Beam proposal, which does not include a big box store, but which might have a grocery store. Said Emily of one of one of the Beam developers with whom she's spoken: "He seems to really understand how the district works".

Personally, though I could see that the Beam proposal is indeed the best of the three (it also includes bio-swale constructions for water run-off and is the most pedestrian/bike-friendly), I am not thrilled with any of them. All include tall buildings. That is, structures that are 10-15 stories high. I honestly don't usually care for architecture that's over 4 stories. Buildings start to become monolithic at that point, and to create wind tunnels and big shadows. If it were up to me, I would leave at least the facade of the older building currently facing onto Burnside; it has lovely old arches on it, and more personality than anything the developers were offering.

No one seems to have given much thought to how this redevelopment is going to affect the homeless people who live in and around the parcel, and under the nearby bridges and freeway ramps. Big Box or no, new projects like this tend to give the excuse to shoo undesirables away. And just because an area is "pedestrian friendly" doesn't mean you can panhandle, busk, or hold a sign without getting harassed. "Exploitation" of the East Side in some form is inevitable with this project.

The PDC says it will be passing all the comments collected tonight to the Evaluation Commission, which will then make a recommendation on which proposal to accept. Public Testimony on this recomendation will be received on (and probably up to, via mail, etc.) Jan. 26, 2005. The PDC will make its final decision by Feb. 9. In other words, there's still time to make your voice heard in this process.

best of pdx indymedia 14.Dec.2004 03:00


this is among some of the best reporting i have seen on indymedia. great article!

thanks for going to the meeting tonight and writing this up.

there is a grocery store in that area 14.Dec.2004 06:14

Sheridan Fruit

They have great bulk bins and lots of cheese and, of course- fruits and vegetables. Bread, wine, pasta. What more do you need?
It's just south of the Burnside bridge on MLK.

Make a comment on-line! 14.Dec.2004 09:16


Excellent article! However, it doesn't mention that the PDC page linked to in the first paragraph has a comment form at the bottom. Fill it out! If you didn't make it to the meeting, this is your chance to let your voice be heard.

Also on that page are the dates for the next few events in this process:

Committee Findings to Commission and Executive Director January 7, 2005
PDC Commission Work Session—Project Briefing January 12, 2005
PDC Commission Hearing—Public Testimony January 26, 2005
PDC Commission Action February 9, 2005

here's that URL again:

Thanks 14.Dec.2004 09:44


Thanks for the update, I really wanted to make it over to this meeting but wasn't able to. I'll send my comments in thanks for the link and the info! Great to see people involved in the process.

Use the enemy's weapons 14.Dec.2004 15:43


Any chance Measure 37 could be used to block a large chain development? Any PAWC thoughts on this?

yo homeless folks and those who care 14.Dec.2004 17:01


I believe the people behind the projected development of this area have thought of the homeless people and how it would effect them. I would imagine that of the objectives the project would hope to accomplish, getting rid of the homeless people there presently, and discouraging any from being drawn to it upon completion, would be one of them.
How much better it might be if the city were to have within this project, transition from homelessness housing. Such a facility could be further enhanced by the creation of a program offering voluntary minimal wage employment to those housed, just one component of a full service program for displaced citizens that rightly should be included in the plans for this new development district.
It would be nice if the city were to actively recognize that homelessness is not neccessary discriminate, and incorporate homeless people into new projects from the start rather than allow the natural and inhumane occurrence of homeless people having to gravitate to those areas to spare change because they have no other means of providing for themselves.
Anybody can find themselves homeless given the right unfortunate combination of circumstances. It's not constructive to continue a pattern of undermining often feeble reserves of self-esteem amongst homelessness victims by displacing them from the refuge that long neglected neighborhoods have been for them. The damage is compounded when homeless people continue to be effectively excluded from those areas once they become spiffed up for yup-towners.

more info from at least the last hour of the 12/9 meeting 15.Dec.2004 21:36


I only saw the 3rd, last proposal. It was much better than I expected. However,

rather than Big Box sending profits to another state, their "anchor" was to be headquarters of a Chinese company. Now, they are going to employ more people presumably at better pay than Big Box, but does that mean $$$ siphoned out of the country? Overall still better based on the minimal info given, but annoying none the less.

The developer of the non-big-box proposal is an eastside Portland firm for whom this would be by far their most ambitious project.

Only one sentence on the skatepark under the Burnside bridge, a national or even internationally known landmark... nothing re: displacing of homeless and day-laborer operations. I suppose if they create employment and construction labor demand that indirectly helps the employable homeless folks.

Nothing on traffic (the average vehicle @ Home Depot takes up more space than your typical urban assault vehicle).

Burnside Bridgehead 10.Mar.2005 10:05


Hey any word yet about the proposals? I know there has been some crazy changes....