PORTLAND, Ore. — When you look around downtown Portland, there are boarded up windows, graffiti and trash on pretty much every block.
What you don't see much of are people. With more and more working from home due to the pandemic, downtown is practically a ghost town.
"We're really struggling and it's time to get the graffiti cleaned up," Vanessa Sturgeon, CEO of TMT Development, said. "It's time to get the trash removed and it's time to find a really compassionate, long term solution to the homeless crisis we have in Portland."
Sturgeon is a spokesperson for the Rose City Downtown Collective, a group of hundreds of businesses wanting to get the city's attention to clean up downtown Portland and put an end to the violence and riots that have marred the city for months.
"All of us are unified in supporting the Black Lives Matter movement and supporting the peaceful protests that have happened that have unfortunately largely been co-opted by groups that are focused on damage and destruction and violence," Sturgeon said.
An open letter to the city of Portland on the group's website says, "Our elected officials let us down this year, but we are hopeful that the new City Council will step up. The hard reality is that some local businesses won’t make it to January to see new council members take their posts. The urgency of this situation cannot be overstated."
The group is comprised of large and small businesses, most notably the Portland Trail Blazers, Portland Timbers and Portland Thorns sports organizations.
Deschutes Brewery's CEO and president, Michael LaLonde, said his company joined the group because, "We want to bring people back to the Pearl where we're at and downtown. We just want to rejuvenate downtown, make it a great place for people to come down for tourists and residents alike and make it a vibrant community that it has always been."
Real estate developers said vacancies are hard to fill right now with how the national news portrays Portland. They said many prospective tenants refuse to move their business into Portland just because of the city's new reputation.
Sturgeon cited Multnomah County District Attorney Mike Schmidt's policy to preemptively decline prosecution of people arrested at protests for charges that did not include deliberate property damage, theft or force against another person. She feels that decision harmed Portland's reputation.
"It's permeating the reputation of on a national level and it's incredibly unfortunate because Portland really is a Portland beautiful community and a really nice place to live," she said.
A spokesman for Schmidt said the district attorney has and continues to prosecute cases stemming from protests where suspects are accused of property damage or physically harming someone. They cited the fact Schmidt's office has prosecuted 51 cases related to property damage during protests and is reviewing 35 other cases for potential prosecution.
Rose City Downtown Collective hopes to connect other businesses to resources to help them survive this economic downturn. Businesses want to organize trash cleanups downtown by coordinating with SOLVE, and they're asking the city to come up with a compassionate answer to issues involving homelessness throughout the city.
Sturgeon said the main goal is to help small businesses have a voice so everyone is heard at city hall, "That's really our end goal is to support small businesses because the small businesses are the ones that make Portland unique and interesting and a fun place to be and live and work and play."
Specifics will not come out until later this month when a detailed action plan will be submitted to the city council and other elected officials, but the high priorities are to ask for prosecution for criminal destruction, find compassionate but effective care for our streets and the houseless population, create a pathway for non-violent demonstration and make downtown a safe and secure place for businesses and residents.
The group said the financial help that businesses have received has not been enough to sustain them and whether a new federal stimulus package gets approved before Trump leaves office in January is up in the air. Rose City Downtown Collective would like to help channel funds so that businesses can reopen and stay open.
For a complete list of businesses that have joined, scroll to the bottom of the open letter posted here.