‘Culinary corridor’: New home for food carts?

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PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Food carts are a Portland institution – but they’re also under threat. 

Development in the city’s downtown is pushing out many food carts from longstanding locations. A large pod of food carts at SW 10th and Alder will be displaced in 2019 with the construction of a 33-story office building and hotel. 

The “culinary corridor” is being proposed as a way to save the food carts in Portland. Design consultant and author Randy Gragg, food writer Brett Burmeister and food cart owner Daniel Huerta presented the concept to Portland’s City Council last Wednesday. 

“Basically what we propose is creating a corridor of food carts along the midtown park blocks, between Director Park and O’Bryant Square, by repurposing a few parking spots,” Gragg told Mayor Ted Wheeler and the council. 

“The time to act is now — otherwise the national and international headlines will be, ‘High-rising downtown Portland loses its street food soul,” Gragg said. 

The “culinary corridor” would turn parking spots into food cart locations along SW 9th Avenue, between Director Park and O’Bryant Square. The group says there are 130 food carts in downtown Portland. 

Marrisa Joyce manages the Whole Bowl food cart at the SW Alder pod, November 5, 2018 (KOIN)

Marisa Joyce, who manages the Whole Bowl food cart at the Alder pod, says she worries that many of the food cart owner-operators won’t be able to find new locations in time. Development of privately owned land is putting available space in short supply in downtown Portland. 

Joyce said that getting rid of food carts in downtown will give tourists less of a reason to visit Portland’s west side. She likes the idea of the corridor, but thinks implementation could be tricky. 

“The problem is the infrastructure. You’re going to need water; you’re going to need places to put everything. There [are] businesses along there. It’d be hard to put in all that brand-new stuff,” Joyce said. 

Mayor Ted Wheeler agrees that the proposal will need a lot of work, but says he’s excited about the concept. 

“Their concern and my concern is how do we protect food carts, and food cart culture in the city, and still allow development,” Wheeler said. 

One of the big issues, Wheeler said, will be the loss of parking spaces, which would involve Portland’s Bureau of Transportation. Another would be zoning; Portland has a prohibition against locating private-sector enterprise in public parks. (One idea Gragg raised was to situate some of the food carts in O’Bryant Square.) 

The popular food cart pod at SW 10th and Alder in Portland may be closed to make room for a new hotel, June 2018 (KOIN)

Burmeister told KOIN 6 News Monday that he, Gragg, and Huerta will need to come together to do further work on their plan. Then, the next step will be to start working with PBOT. 

PBOT spokesperson John Brady said that the agency hasn’t started any formal planning, since the idea is still in a very early stage. 

If the “culinary corridor” idea doesn’t pan out, Wheeler said he thinks the city government should play a role in helping to keep food carts in Portland. He thinks the mayor’s office could help connect food cart owners with opportunities to relocate on private property. 

“It would be a really big shame to lose the food cart culture here in Portland,” he said.  

More details on this story can be found in Tuesday’s edition of the Portland Tribune. 

The popular food cart pod at SW 10th and Alder in Portland may be closed to make room for a new hotel, June 2018 (KOIN)

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