An Elusive Food Cart Capsule

Among the dozens of budget recommendations made by Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler on Thursday, one line item is intended to revive a long-stagnant project: a food cart on the streets surrounding a downtown plaza.

The mayor’s proposed budget includes $ 269,000 to move food carts that once stood in a parking lot where a Ritz-Carlton hotel is being built, to form a pod intended to surround Ankeny Square along West Burnside Street . The idea has been in the works for almost two years but has failed to secure permits from the Portland Bureau of Transportation.

The capsule was designed by Keith Jones, director of the Friends of the Green Loop nonprofit, which seeks to create new public spaces that support small business owners. He says WW he feels tremendously relieved by the mayor’s budget item and that all the money, if allocated, would go towards creating an electrical infrastructure so that electricity is available for the carts to work.

“It gives us a huge step forward in terms of getting back on track,” Jones said. “All originals [carts] come back.

He says a few of the more than two dozen carts that were waiting in storage must have been sold by their owners due to the loss of the business, but he hopes most of them will return.

The money for the pod is a tiny fraction of the $ 5.7 billion budget proposed by Wheeler on April 29. But its inclusion indicates both how much the mayor is prioritizing reviving downtown commerce and how slowly the city’s bureaucracy has responded to the need for an outdoor gathering. spaces during the pandemic.

For much of 2020, downtown Portland felt like a ghost town, even as Jones pleaded with city bureaucrats to speed up his idea. WW examined the disconcerting delay of December.

Jones sought to move two dozen food carts that were moved from a nearby pod so that a Ritz-Carlton could be built in 2019. Most of the displaced carts were run by immigrants. But allowing snafus continued to block the project.

He says WW he was so desperate to complete the project that he even spoke to the owners of surrounding buildings to see if he could use their power sources to provide electricity to the carts.

Jones tells WW he received the proper permit from PBOT to build the wagons in january and it won’t be difficult to get permission from Portland Parks & Recreation: “I’m trying to get it started in a few weeks here.

The mayor’s office agrees with this plan, as does PBOT.

Jim Middaugh, a spokesperson for the mayor’s office, said in an email that the Ankeny cart boom is a project that “will help put a group of small employers back to work and revitalize an inner city neighborhood since long devastated “.

“The goal is to move forward with permits and construction so that the module can be operational this summer,” Middaugh said in an email. “City staff are reviewing the details of the project to avoid any delays on the city side. “

Jones says PBOT granted him permits for two of the three streets he had applied for for the wagons. The office has denied permits along the 8th Avenue stretch of the park because it is required for fire truck access, which will reduce the pod capacity by about six carts.

PBOT waived the authorization fee for Friends of the Green Loop.

“We are helping organizers temporarily control traffic to make the area safe for food carts and pedestrians on the street, and to ensure access to utilities and neighbors,” spokesman Dylan Rivera said.

The pandemic has dramatically altered the downtown ecosystem, so Jones says it will be an uphill battle, as most of the pod’s customers have reportedly been office workers and tourists, both of whom are hard to spot downtown. city.

While Jones is optimistic, he is also careful not to celebrate too early: “It’s been a series of false highs,” Jones says. “[Cart owners] are very happy to hear that this is moving forward, but none of us will be jumping up and down until there are actually carts on the scene.