PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – As downtown Portland continues its post-pandemic recovery, faced with homelessness, drug addiction and office vacancies, Gov. Tina Kotek set her sights on the future of downtown Portland — announcing a new task force to revitalize the city.
On Aug. 9, Kotek launched the Portland Central City Task Force, a 47-member committee co-chaired by Kotek and Dan McMillan, CEO of The Standard insurance company.
The task force includes elected leaders such as Sen. Ron Wyden; Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler; Multnomah County District Attorney Mike Schmidt; and Multnomah County Chair Jessica Vega Pederson. Business leaders from Mother’s Bistro, the Portland Trail Blazers, Portland State University and Legacy Health are also on the task force.
Kotek and McMillan held a press conference Aug. 22 after the group’s first meeting. The governor explained that the task force will be split up into five committees focusing on community safety; neighborhood livability; housing and homelessness; and the city’s tax structure for services.
For McMillan, co-chairing the task force means banding together with the community to help downtown recover.
“I think about the history and the legacy that The Standard has in the city. Over a century, we’ve been providing community support and leadership here in the places where we do business work and play every day. And this is no different than the need that the city’s had over time. We’ve gone through a couple world wars, we’ve gone through the Great Depression, we’ve gone through the Great Recession, the pandemic, and the city’s in a place right now where we all need to band together and do some serious work,” McMillan told KOIN 6 News.
“We’ve not here to talk about the problems,” McMillan said of the task force. “People know what the problems are. It’s time to get some momentum, take some action and have a bias toward action.”
During last week’s press conference, Kotek explained that the task force will hold meetings between now and December when the group will present their recommendations at the Oregon Business Plan Leadership Summit.
“This is a four-month sprint and the work that’s going on, we won’t wait to take action until the end of that sprint. Anything that’s easy to identify and move on now, we’re going to move on,” McMillan said.
While the task force co-chairs emphasized their desire to act with urgency, some downtown businesses are skeptical.
“There’s just one big eye roll. Like, stop talking, let’s do something. They’ve been talking about it forever it seems like, and nothing is happening so, I want some action,” The Fossil Cartel Owner Susan Landa told KOIN 6 News.
“Same story, different sound,” Portland Outdoor Store owner Brad Popick added. “Everybody wants something to be done much faster than it’s been going.”
“We’re not going to talk about it. We’ve been talking about it for a while,” McMillan said — noting conversations around urgency “sounds very much like the tenor of the conversation that we had [in the PCCTF meeting.]”
During their first meeting, McMillan says the Portland Central City Task Force spent an hour going over “foundational data,” including data on Multnomah County’s shrinking population.
“That should be an alarm for everybody because the long-term implications of that are very serious and it’s also something that’s unusual for other cities our size that are going through this,” Mcmillan said.
With downtown office vacancy rates at 31%, McMillan says it will take a mix of businesses to help re-invigorate downtown.
“Visioning for what the city looks like in its purposes long term, I think, incorporates residences, incorporates services, incorporates dining and shopping as well as business. But I think the mix is going to need to change over time,” McMillan said.
During the pandemic, McMillan moved his own employees from The Standard’s downtown offices to Hillsboro for safety reasons and the opportunity for remote work. McMillan explained that his downtown offices have since re-opened, and his employees are continuing the hybrid work model in the Hillsboro and Portland offices. He says he’s also signed business tenants to join vacant spaces in their building.
“By nearly every measure, compared to 2020, things are better,” McMillan said. And I think one of the opening messages in our kickoff was our intent is to come alongside the good work that’s already happening at the city, at the county and elsewhere and to help. And this is very much a collaborative partnership in the work that we’re doing, and we think that theme in terms of the work itself is going to be very important.”
He also says there needs to be optimism for the future of Portland.
“I do think we need some optimism. Just anecdotally in the last two weeks, the number of people – dozens and dozens – that have reached out to me personally, people I know and a lot of people I don’t know, I’m just sort of stunned by the care for our community. The most common refrain I’ve heard is ‘Let me know how I can help.’ And that’s over and over and over.”