PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – As a member of the Oregon Alcohol and Drug Commission, Don Mazziotti has a big stake in the future of the Rose City while downtown Portland grapples with a homelessness crisis and a post-pandemic recovery.
“What I see is a city that’s been hit by a perfect storm,” Mazziotti said. “Whether it’s homelessness, the pandemic or any of a number of other issues that hit downtown in terms of participation by shoppers, which is down dramatically.”
Mazziotti, the former head of the Portland Development Commission, has also worked as a senior development vice president for Schnitzer and spent five years working for the Harbor of Hope non-profit, which serves the homeless.
“From my standpoint, there’s one key to the whole thing, which is public safety,” Mazziotti said. “I think we can start certainly by increasing, doubling the amount of officers we have on the street. We have about 300 patrolmen right now. I’d like to see that at 600 citywide and with a substantial deployment that can fight the vandalism which persists in downtown Portland.”
Public safety has been top of mind as some businesses have decided to leave downtown, citing rampant crime and vandalism. Most recently, REI announced plans to close its Pearl District location — a loss Mazziotti calls “the canary in the coal mine.”
“We’ve got to look at this very carefully because sports, sports apparel, sporting, is a key piece of Portland, of our identity, our brand. We cannot lose that brand. And REI leaving is a real difficulty, a mountain to climb, and we need to climb it,” Mazzioti said.
In addition to public safety, Mazzioti says there also needs to be focus on the city’s post-pandemic recovery — coupled with addressing the drug addition crisis and the lack of affordable housing.
The pandemic led to some employees working from home, and in some cases, led to vacant office buildings. Mazziotti says he supports the idea of turning the vacant buildings into housing, noting, “I would say that a key to our recovery downtown — aside from the public safety issue, which is paramount—is to focus on developing more housing in the downtown area.”
In Mazziotti’s view, the drug crisis in Portland is a bigger issue than housing. He said Measure 110, which decriminalized certain drugs, has complicated Oregon’s drug crisis. Mazziotti says he wants the governor and legislators to look at the strategic plan developed by the Commission on Alcohol and Drug Policy.
“I think we have to keep in mind Measure 110 decriminalized small amounts of commonly used drugs, including recreational drugs. The problem is it put the cart before the horse. Measure 110 comes up with a solution without fully understanding the nature of the problem and without the infrastructure in place to implement it,” Mazziotti said.
But downtown Portland is also seeing some signs of hope with some development such as the new $800 million Ritz Carlton hotel being built in the west end, which Mazziotti says can be a catalyst for more business.
“I think it can be a catalyst but it can’t be the only thing,” Mazziotti said — noting the pandemic and some business departures weren’t factors during the planning stages of the hotel.
“We were in a bucolic, wonderful urban area that has been hit, as I said, by the pandemic and public safety issues simultaneously which has had a profound affect. I think it will bring that part of downtown back.”