If you're looking for proof Mayor Charlie Hales wants to keep Old Town's Entertainment District running, look no further than the public urinals.
The city will introduce two open-air loos—portable walkups to keep drunks from peeing in the streets—Aug. 23. They are the latest move by Hales and city officials to prove the district is working to solve problems in the city's biggest drinking destination.
The city has been closing a six-block area to cars—from Northwest 2nd to 4th avenues and from Northwest Everett to Burnside streets—on weekend nights and major drinking holidays on a trial basis since January.
As many as 8,000 people flock to Old Town on a summer night to hit the dozen bars in the neighborhood. With this mostly suburban crowd comes a nightmare for residents and other businesses: yelling, vomiting, fighting, the thumping bass from the clubs, and public urination.
Police say the street closures have made it easier for them to patrol the area and cut crime by 30 percent.
But people who live, work or own businesses in the closure zone are tepid at best about the district.
Bar owners say the street barriers and increased police presence are uninviting, while social-service agencies lament the bustling bar scene within a few feet of clean-and-sober recovery housing.
Despite ongoing complaints, Hales appears as if he will push the City Council to make the district permanent.
Hales' office is looking for ways to make Old Town businesses—and their customers—cover the estimated $80,000 a year it costs to run the district.
Chad Stover, Hales' policy adviser, tells WW the mayor's office is considering keeping the Entertainment District going beyond the Oct. 27 end of the trial run.
Stover says the city favors two options for raising money: a parking district around Old Town with extended meter hours, or a tax on businesses in the area.
"We need to find a way to cover the extraordinary costs behind the street closure," Stover says.
Hales' office hasn't yet decided where a parking or business taxation district would be, how much would be charged, or how much each would generate, Stover says. The mayor is leaning toward longer parking-meter hours—perhaps requiring drivers to pay for street parking around the clock on weekends.
Adam Milne, owner of Old Town Pizza at 226 NW Davis St., says he's not heard of any City Hall plans to pay for the Entertainment District. But he prefers making bargoers pay for extended parking to charging a new tax on his business.
"Business is already down, people can't get to our businesses—we're all basically suffering from a couple of businesses that have attracted crime," Milne says. (Stover says he's "seen very little empirical evidence from businesses showing they are down.")
One group that is seeing more revenue is the Portland Business Alliance, the city's largest business group.
The PBA has landed a $16,000 city contract to provide street banners, smoker's poles, clean-up crews (for "everything from litter to biohazards," Stover says) and, now, temporary public urinals.
Hales' office didn't have details on the urinals. But other cities have deployed portable stalls that allow users to turn their backs to crowds while relieving themselves.
"There's no privacy really," Stover says, adding that they'll be used most after the bars close at 2 am. "I wouldn't drop your pants all the way, but just unzip and do your business and move on."
Howard Weiner, chairman of the Old Town Chinatown Community Association, says the Entertainment District may not be beloved enough for it ultimately to stay.
"It might be that as a community it's too much for us to take on," Weiner says. "It was made very clear that this will only continue with the community's support. With that said, I hold the mayor's office to that commitment."
Meanwhile, the city has spent other money to study entertainment districts across the country.
Last month, four city employees—two police officers and two staffers from the Office of Neighborhood Involvement—extended their stay at a conference in Austin, Texas, to study that city's famed Sixth Street district.
The four flew to a Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America conference July 19 using federal grant money, and stayed two extra days to see how Austin officials keep their revelers under control.
The neighborhood office estimates the extended stay cost $1,500. The Portland Police Bureau did not release its travel costs.
So far, no one from the trip has written a report or given a presentation on what they learned.
"I haven't had a chance to really flesh things out yet," says Mike Boyer, crime prevention coordinator for Old Town, who went on the trip. "Their problems are fairly similar to ours: overservice, noise issues and really trying to balance out the needs of the community.â