Two Southeast Portland Neighborhoods Plan to Turn Their Main Streets Into Dining Plazas

If Zach Katz gets his way, Beulahland could serve pints in the street at a block party every summer weekend.

Patrons drink beer and socialize outside The Beer Store, which remained open through the pandemic. Today was the first time they've been allowed to have seating available for customers. The owner, Nate, had called Milwaukie Mayor Mark Gamba the night before to seek his permission for seating to be placed on the street to conform with social distancing orders. (Alex Wittwer)

A plan to turn Portland streets into dining and shopping plazas is gaining traction—both at City Hall and in neighborhoods.

On May 6, WW reported that City Commissioner Chloe Eudaly was interested in a proposal to turn city streets into al fresco dining plazas. Eudaly said she would expand her policy of blocking streets to reduce car traffic during the pandemic.

The idea is simple: If COVID-19 is spread most virulently in close quarters, and Portland restaurants are imperiled by shutdowns, why not move dining rooms outdoors during the summer months?

Last week, the news website BikePortland checked to see how that plan was progressing—and found that city transportation planners had made detailed plans to remove traffic lanes to create room on the blacktop for restaurant takeout service, outdoor dining, shopping and even barber chairs.

BikePortland has a close examination of those plans here.

Eudaly's office says the Portland Bureau of Transportation will announce formal plans by this Thursday.

"Commissioner Eudaly and PBOT's plan for using the public right of way to support Portland's businesses is well underway—our plan considers open air commerce as a whole, meaning we are designing a permit process that will allow not just restaurants but bars, retail and personal service businesses to access the right of way," says her spokeswoman Margaux Weeke. "Commissioner Eudaly is excited about the progress we have made on this initiative, and PBOT will make an announcement with further details."

Meanwhile, a Sunnyside neighborhood resident has launched a campaign to turn two Southeast Portland commercial districts into "Portland promenades."

Zach Katz, 25, wants to close several blocks of Northeast and Southeast 28th Avenue in Kerns, and Southeast Belmont Street in Sunnyside, to allow shopping and dining in the streets.

His plan has drawn the backing of at least 10 businesses on each street—including the Belmont Inn, Circa 33, Beulahland, Navarre and City State Diner. His plan was also well received by the Kerns Neighborhood Association, which asked only for a 10 pm curfew on street business.

If Katz gets his way, Beulahland could serve pints in the street at a block party every summer weekend. In sketches, the roads look a lot like outdoor malls—as if Bridgeport Village were dropped into the heart of Southeast Portland.

"I've always dreamed of making these vibrant commercial corridors into promenades and plazas," Katz says. "Now that everyone's interests are aligned, it just seemed like the perfect time to do it."

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