Downtown Portland business owners excited by city’s ‘Office to Housing’ plan

Published: Mar. 17, 2023 at 5:18 PM PDT
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PORTLAND Ore. (KPTV) - Downtown business owners are looking toward the future with optimism after an ordinance passed by Portland City Council this week aims to turn vacant office buildings into apartments.

City officials say this ordinance is a win-win for Portland because it creates more housing without new construction, and gets more people living downtown and supporting local businesses.

Huber’s Café is a downtown staple, and owner James Louie says  more people living downtown would be a critical part of bringing back downtown Portland’s identity

“The old, iconic, historic restaurants are downtown,” said Louie. “People coming to visit, whether it’s business, or for vacation, you need a strong core area.”

This ordinance dramatically lowers the amount of money building owners and developers would have to pay the city for converting empty office buildings into housing. This includes the cost to retrofit older buildings to withstand earthquakes.

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Business owners acknowledge downtown Portland may not be the most desirable place right now, but they say the situation could improve if more people are living in the area.

“It makes a huge difference when there’s people walking around,” said Jen Causey, owner of Lotus & Bean Espresso Bar. “We have problems with troublemakers downtown, and we didn’t have as much of that when there were more people downtown walking around.”

James Louie at Huber’s feels the same way. He says strength in numbers, whether it is new residents or more people frequenting businesses, will make all the difference for downtown Portland.

“The more people that are downtown, that will deter people from doing vandalism and doing crime because there are people around. If you have more people, you have more witnesses.”

A spokesperson for one of the city commissioners says it is now up to private building owners to bring proposals to the city to take part in the office to housing incentive.