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Portland's Oldest Food Cart Pod May Soon Be Replaced by Giant Apartment Building

The pod at 5th and Stark, along with two other food cart pods, planned for development.

Three of Portland's most central food cart pods—including its oldest—may soon be gone.

The bustling pods at Southwest 5th Avenue and Stark Street, Southwest 2nd Avenue and Stark Street and Southwest 3rd Avenue and Oak Street are on the list of properties announced for future development by Greg Goodman, co-president of the Downtown Development Group and scion to one of Portland's most powerful property-owning families.

Goodman's $1.5 billion "Ankeny Blocks" plan to stake up 11 skyscrapers in downtown, changing Portland's skyline dramatically and adding massive amounts of both residential and commercial space, was announced by The Oregonian this week.

The buildings would go up where parking lots currently exist. "Surface parking lots should go away," PSU professor Ethan Seltzer said in that piece.

Three of those parking lots, however, also house food cart pods—a hallmark of Portland food culture for over 30 years, since the first one opened on Southwest 5th and Stark.

Chris Schenk, at Steaks Fifth Avenue, has been at 5th and Stark for 19 of those years.

"One of my employees called me about it last night," said Schenk, while prepping meat for the day's business.

He says he's heard nothing from his landlord, City Center Parking, but says he's renting month-to-month.

"They haven't always been the best at communicating," says Schenk. "I can't say I'm surprised. When I came in, rent was $350. Now it's $800."

City Center confirmed they would require only a 30-day-notice to the food carts if a development deal went through, but has not commented on any potential future developments.

On the Ankeny Blocks plan, the 5th and Stark pod is slated to become one of the tallest buildings in Portland, a 460-foot residential and commercial space.

Goodman says that the Ankeny Blocks plan is a vision designed to lure businesses here—but that he expects development to move slowly. Design review alone would take more than a year, he says. He also says he plans to give food cart operators ample notice.

"You're not going to wake up one day and see the parking lots all gone at the same time," says Goodman.

He says that if his company displaces a pod, he plans to upgrade the electrical capacity on another westside lot to start a new pod, along with expanding restaurant capacity within the developments.

"We have a lot of lots that aren't on the Ankeny Blocks," says Goodman. "We own 30 pieces of dirt downtown. If I control a property we'll spend $45,000 and do the upgrade."

Brett Burmeister at Food Carts Portland was the first to take note of the three pods amid the planned developments.

Burmeister also issued a call to action for food cart owners.

"Food cart owners need to come together and get in front of City Council and let them know that Portland street food scene is part of the city fabric," he wrote. "Every city has it, so as we develop, we need to find a way to keep it."

"We understand the significance of the food carts," says Goodman. "We don't take it lightly."

He says that he'll be judicious about the tenants he allows to come into any new developments.

"We buy into the Portland vision," Goodman says. "You look at the West End, Tasty N Alder is there. I had a bank that wanted to be there. We said no to the bank. Where Blue Star is, we had a national Quizno's wanting to move in. We said no."

Schenk, at Steaks Fifth Avenue, is less sanguine. He says he's already having issues with parking lot management—that repeated requests to accommodate vehicle parking for him and other food cart owners have gone unheeded, and that they haven't been offered protections against overnight break-ins to the carts.

But he worries most about his chances of finding a new place to do business—especially if many other cart owners are also forced to move.

"Obviously, it would suck if something came in here," he says, then pauses. "I should have gone with my gut years ago and gotten an interior space."