PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — More businesses are banding together to try and revive the city — and get city leaders attention.

The Downtown Business Community recently released a letter to the City of Portland saying it is done passively waiting for help.

“We want to support our small businesses that keep our culture alive and well,” said Vanessa Sturgeon, CEO of TMT Development. “We want to maintain our Portland vibe.”

Sturgeon and Jim Mark are commercial real estate developers and managers in downtown Portland.

After hearing the months of struggle and strife from the small businesses they work with, they spearheaded an effort to round up their voices — and the Rose City Downtown Collective was formed.

Wednesday, the collective released this letter — signed by 300 people — calling on City Hall for help.

“We want to see the vibrancy come back, we want to have those family businesses look at Portland as a place where they want to form their businesses,” said Jim Mark, CEO of Melvin Mark Company. “Safety is a big element. We need to come down to a place where we know we can walk and shop and come to our offices safely.”

While cities around the country are all being hit by COVID, Sturgeon and Mark say Portland has extra layers of pain that are keeping people from enjoying the downtown core.

  • COVID is crushing and shuttering businesses
  • Then, 5 months of vandalism in downtown Portland was devastating beyond compare
  • All topped with growing homeless camps and trash taking up many business fronts
  • Founders of the collective say these chronic issues and the fear of crime can’t continue.

“You already had businesses who were on their last legs because of COVID, then all they had to their names was their inventory. Then that was taken from them,” Sturgeon said. “The expense of replacing their windows is just the final blow for these small businesses.”

The collective is a wide variety of businesses and individuals ranging from hair stylists to restauranteurs to folks at business firms to candy shops — all calling on City Hall to do more.

“We need these small businesses to have safety for their clientele,” Sturgeon said. “We need the garbage picked up downtown, we need the homeless to have a compassionate resolution to the lifestyle that they’re now living, which is quite inhumane in tents on the streets.”

As hundreds are all signing on to make a commitment to help one another clean up downtown, they’re also committing to working with elected officials to make it happen.

“We want to have that conversation with elected officials,” Mark said. “We want elected officials to come downtown — walk — see the issues of boarded up retail and talk to people who are downtown in the community and clean up the trash and issues that’s facing downtown today.”

They are calling on the city’s help for the following:

1. Promoting cleanups downtown with SOLVE
2. Creating a sign-up for vandalized businesses to connect them to funds and volunteers who can help repair damages.
3. Creating a system to report and remove new graffiti
4. Connecting downtown businesses to city, state and county officials for a clear action plan to aid downtown businesses

Businesses feel like elected officials let them down this year — and they’re hoping the new Portland City Council will step up.

“We really need support from our elected officials,” Sturgeon said. “Mayor Wheeler is really working to improve things, but he needs the support of his fellow council members. He’s only one vote out of 5.”

KOIN 6 News reached out to council members, county chair and the governor to see what they have to say about this latest open letter from Portlanders. The communications director for the Multnomah County Commissioners shared the following statement in response:

“Multnomah County is focused on combating the COVID-19 pandemic. Like the Rose City Collective, we know that until the virus is controlled, there will be no full economic recovery downtown or anywhere else in our community.  This is our all-hands on deck approach. We are also working closely with businesses and this week, getting more than $7.6 million in CARES Act grants out the door to restaurants, food carts and other small businesses throughout Multnomah County.”

The office of Mayor Ted Wheeler shared this statement:

“I appreciate this group’s passion for revitalizing the local economy and spirit of downtown. We need all hands on deck to keep Portland’s economy strong. Since the spring the city has provided millions of dollars of assistance to businesses and families, supported marketing and activation of downtown neighborhoods, expanded garbage pickup and graffiti removal, and provided hundreds of safe alternative sleeping spaces for people experiencing homelessness. Harnessing the expertise, energy and resources of our downtown businesses to leverage the city’s efforts will be essential to a successful recovery.”