Why is the fast-food restaurant at the corner of West Burnside and Broadway still empty? Shouldn't the coming Burnside/Couch couplet make it a hot property? —Alan M., Portland

If you think this building's vacancy bothers you, imagine how the Portland Development Commission feels. These boosters, who can scarcely say the words "multi-use zoning" without becoming flushed with arousal, must daily confront the fact that the heart of their Downtown/Waterfront Urban Renewal Area is currently occupied by the architectural equivalent of eczema.

The PDC says it's reached out to the owners over the years with no luck. At one point Central City Concern considered buying, but rumor has it that a high asking price soured the deal.

It's worth noting that as of last summer, the property has a new owner, Farmers and Merchants Bank of Long Beach. Bank officials didn't respond to requests to blab about their clients' business dealings, the dirty mugs, but one recalls that 2009 has been a big year for foreclosures.

As for being a hot property, the Magic 8-Ball says "All Signs Point to Yes." The couplet is backed by a Who's Who of downtown real-estate machers like Michael Powell, David Gold and the unfortunately named Harsch Investment Properties, all folks who make a living watching property values rise. It seems overwhelmingly likely that the couplet, when and if it comes, will only enhance the value of the lot.

That said, if the bank is waiting on a firm date for the westside couplet, they can get in line behind the rest of us. According to the Transportation Bureau's Dan Anderson, "City staff are still working on the engineering and funding." This is roughly the same answer I got from the Vatican when I called them for an ETA on Christ's return, so we'll see.