PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – A day after the Portland Business Alliance released its analysis on the serious economic problems Portland is facing, two major commercial real estate developers in town are weighing in with their insight and outlook on the city.
Melvin Mark Company and TMT Development are two major commercial real estate companies in Portland that have their finger on the pulse of what’s going on in the city, and behind the scenes in the business sector.
The commercial real estate developers told KOIN 6 that 25% of downtown Portland’s offices are vacant right now.
The Portland Business Alliance says office workers are an essential part of sustaining a thriving downtown with vibrant shops and restaurants. The work-from-home model is throttling the city’s recovery.
Here’s the good news: developers say many of their office tenants are bringing their workforce back next month.
“Our office tenants are planning to be back around the end of March and, of course, then retail will follow,” said Vanessa Sturgeon, CEO of TMT Development. “As more people filter into downtown, more restaurants are going to reopen.”
CEO of Melvin Mark Company, Jim Mark, explained “I have partners that call me up and say, ‘Office space is done.’ I’ve done this for forty years and there’s definitely a trend here, but it hasn’t completely ended for the office.”
However, they say they think offices will settle on more of a hybrid model moving forward, where workers come into the office some days and people work from home on other days.
“So fewer people in bigger spaces is the reality of where things seem to be shaking out,” Sturgeon explained.
With fewer office workers in the future, this heightens the need to attract visitors to also support the economy.
In order to do that, the two things that both real estate developers said local leaders need to throw all of their efforts at is improving public safety and ending unsanctioned camping by getting homeless people the help they need.
“In society, we have the right to feel safe, to be able to walk to our store, to be able to walk to our school. I think some of that has not been present over the past year and a half,” Mark said.
“You have a very small, very vocal group of advocates that are advocating for camping to remain legal, but the overwhelming majority of Portland wants to see this issue addressed with real severe urgency,” Sturgeon added.
In the meantime, developers say it’s important for Portlanders to shop local, dine downtown, and vote for politicians who are going to support restoring the city’s vibrancy.
In a statement to KOIN 6, Mayor Wheeler said “I am very optimistic for the future of the City of Portland. We are working incredibly hard to provide urgent, thoughtful, and meaningful solutions to the biggest issues facing downtown. Our local businesses, large and small, have my full support and attention.”
KOIN 6 also reached out to Portland city commissioners to comment on what the real estate companies had to say about the state and future of downtown.
Commissioner Mingus Mapps said “I strongly believe that local and regional leaders need to act with urgency to save Portland’s economy. Every indicator shows that we are underperforming in our recovery, which is unacceptable. Every action we take should be in the interest of reviving our vibrant city.”
Mapps added “the foundation of recovery is increasing the number of public safety officers as quickly as possible, investing in transitional shelter beds with behavioral health resources, enforce current camping ordinances, and continuing to increase trash pick-up resources.”
In a statement, Commissioner Carmen Rubio said “COVID leveled the local economy, to be sure, but it only crystalized the deep economic and racial disparities that already existed. Our economic recovery must leave all our communities stronger, and that means bringing all communities into the local economy as full and equal partners.”
Rubio added “we need to increase our strategic investments and opportunities for BIPOC and women-owned businesses and make equitable investments in all parts of our city—especially in East Portland. And we need to sustain and grow Portland’s rich history of supporting small businesses, especially in the hospitality sector. But our city cannot do this alone: we need regional collaboration, and the more we collaborate the stronger our recovery will be. I am committed to working with community, labor, and business leaders to recover from the pandemic and build a local economy where hardworking families, regardless of their income level, can thrive.”
In response, Commissioner Hardesty said:
“The unprecedented destabilizing effects of the global health pandemic has no doubt been a struggle for all, including our business community and their employees. I am in complete agreement that the status quo is not acceptable, but also share optimism that we will turn this around. Just today, the City of Portland announced that beginning in April, our employees will move to a hybrid model, which means more City workers will be downtown soon. In my role as the Transportation Commissioner in charge of PBOT, I have extended the healthy business permit program that has offered a lifeline to businesses during this pandemic, while waiving all associated fees. I will be advocating to make this program permanent in City code. Next month we will be sharing news about moving forward with more open plazas that promote community, business, culture, and sustainability. I’m also excited to see a summer concert series coming downtown this Summer. We have work to do, but as more people are able to safety return to recreational activities and enjoy the warmer weather, I expect to see better safety outcomes and more commerce downtown.”
KOIN 6 is waiting to hear back from Commissioner Dan Ryan.