PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Alongside local business owners and the Portland Police Bureau, Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler spoke Tuesday morning about ongoing changes that aim to increase safety in Portland’s Old Town Entertainment District.
This press conference came amidst a rise in unrest, particularly located within Old Town. This includes vandalism, a rise in homelessness and a large amount of gun violence which has recently occurred in the area.
Data shows from July 2021 through July 2022, there were 10 homicides, 6 kidnappings and 430 assaults in the neighborhood.
In his press conference, Mayor Wheeler spoke about the steps the city plans to take in order to improve the quality of life in the district. He shared recent statistics which show gun violence in the neighborhood peaks during Friday and Saturday evenings — when the entertainment district should, in theory, be drawing in its most visitors.
“Recent data shows us that Old Town suffers from a high level of gun violence, and this violence often peaks during Friday and Saturday evenings,” Wheeler said Tuesday. “Under my direction, the Portland Police Bureau will have the authority to close streets.”
Wheeler said there will now be a larger police detail for the district, consisting of 6 officers and one sergeant patrolling on weekend nights to reduce crime and make the area safer for the public.
Additionally, the mayor’s proposal will enable police to close city streets to traffic, providing more walking room and making the area safer for foot traffic on Friday and Saturday evenings. The closures will span from Northwest 1st to 5th avenues and between West Burnside to Northwest Everett Street.
Shutting down streets in the Old Town Entertainment District is not new. Portland police used to shut down streets before the effort was disbanded during the pandemic.
There are also plans to improve the lighting in the area increasing visibility at night.
The goal of this, Mayor Wheeler says, is to reduce crime and to provide a faster response to any crime that might still be happening in the area.
“We still have a lot of work to do in Old Town,” Mayor Wheeler said. ” My team and I have continued to initiate regular conversations with community leaders and our public safety teams to determine ways we can build on the progress being made in Old Town that will help address violence and crime here in the Entertainment District and beyond.”
Old Town businesses firmly in favor of plan
Amid protest chants (similar in flavor to the chants UO students directed at Mormons during the Brigham Young University game this past Saturday), Wheeler said he hopes the initiative will not only make the area safer for foot traffic but also help reduce crime while providing faster police responses for any incidents that do happen.
This is a welcomed change for many of the businesses in the area.
“This community, regardless of what you hear outside right now, is incredibly grateful for the mayor’s teams, for all of their hard work and coming up with creative solutions to solve our collective problems,” said Jessie Burke, the chair of the Old Town Community Association. “I assure you, not a single person that is outside right now (chanting epithets at the mayor) is from Old Town.”
Outside of the larger area and increased lighting, Wheeler did not specifically explain how the new Entertainment District detail will be different from the one used before the pandemic.
But local businesses said they’ve been calling for this to be brought back for years and are looking forward to how bringing the detail back might also help bring back Old Town.
Mayor Wheeler and PPB are also working to make similar changes in different area’s around the town as well including in places like the Parkrose and Powellhurst-Gilbert neighborhoods.
The primary goal is to address areas where gun violence has been highest in an attempt to reduce violent crimes.