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'Businesses have been held hostage for a long time': Portland Central Eastside business owners vent frustration after years of crime

During a listening session Tuesday, Mayor Ted Wheeler presented a 90-day reset plan to help the Central Eastside business community recover and rebound.

PORTLAND, Ore. — Dozens of business owners from Portland's Central Eastside neighborhood shared their safety concerns with city leaders on Tuesday. They talked about crime — from explosions and trash, to drug use and death threats — things they say are forcing them to consider leaving.

“One of our employees on his way into our central kitchen was held up at gunpoint,” said Kim Malek, the co-founder and CEO of Salt & Straw. “A gun in his face as he walked in to make ice cream.”

For two years business owners, including Malek, said they’ve watched as crime, drugs and camping have festered while efforts to speak out about it have led to more angst.

“Several of our business owners have received death threats and so that's something we take pretty seriously,” said Clare Briglio the executive director of the Central Eastside Industrial Council

Briglio helped organize Tuesday’s listening session in front of city leaders including Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler. It's the result of a collective tipping point among dozens of business owners. 

“Businesses have been held hostage for a long time, not being able to speak their own truth and lived experience,” said Briglio.

Like Salt & Straw, Steven Smith Teamaker CEO, Darren Marshall, said he is considering moving his headquarters out of Portland Central Eastside after years of unmitigated crime.

“We would be silly to not look at other options beyond the neighborhood that we're in,” said Marshall. “It's just not safe. In fact, today there was an explosion, one of the camps caught on fire a block away from us… we deal daily with human feces on our shoes, we deal with break-ins, we deal with assaults.”

As part of a solution, Mayor Wheeler said the city is prepared to move forward with a 90-Day Reset Plan for the Central Eastside to help the neighborhood recover and rebound. The plan's actions include increased police presence, focused attention on addressing homelessness, litter collection and graffiti abatement.

“I want you to understand that I understand that lives and livelihoods are being threatened,” said Wheeler.

The city implemented a similar 90-Day Reset Plan in Old Town last March. Wheeler said he wants to make a visible difference for business owners and their employees.

"Not just in terms of the data, but I want it to pass the 'See test,'" said Wheeler. "If you don't see it, it doesn't matter, and so my expectation is that you will."

Malek said she'll be watching.

“I want to see something in place by the end of the year,” she said.


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