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If you "woke" it they will come!

Just kidding. It's stunning how a little dose of wokism and progressive politics can rapidly take down a thriving city. This Thanksgiving please take the time to salute George Soros.

Once the Cutting Edge of Cool, Portland Is Now Taking Lessons From Milwaukee

The Northwestern city is trying to turn around its downtown, which has been plagued with public drug use and rising vacancies

By Zusha Elinson, WSJ

Nov. 23, 2023 9:00 pm ET

Office and retail vacancy rates in Portland’s central business district soared to new highs in the third quarter of 2023.

PORTLAND, Ore.—Fed up with vandalism and rampant drug use in Portland’s struggling downtown, Steven Lien set out this summer to find a new location for the self-described largest men’s underwear store in North America.

The 67-year-old Oregon native even put down a deposit on an appealing vacant storefront across the river for his business, underU4men. But unlike major retailers such as Target or REI that are fleeing downtown, Lien ultimately decided to stay, striking a last-minute deal to renew his lease in September.

Lien got a screaming good deal in a market that now favors tenants, he said, and was encouraged by signs of life such as a new luxury hotel and condo development.

“It was really a lot of soul searching,” Lien said on a recent afternoon, surrounded by racks of colorful, stylish undergarments for men. “And I really ended up pushing on the lease…Believe me, it is not a market-rate lease.”

Portland is hoping more businesses will follow Lien in deciding to stay downtown as the onetime hipster capital struggles with a wave of crime and homelessness that led Oregon’s largest city to lose population for the first time in years. City officials are offering new incentives for businesses and developers that they hope will breathe life into the area.

Steven Lien flirted with the idea of moving his business out of Portland, but ultimately decided to stay.

Local leaders are looking for answers in unusual places. In October, Andrew Hoan, chief executive of Portland Metro Chamber, brought civic and business leaders to the Midwest city of Milwaukee to learn how it transformed its sleepy downtown with the new Deer District, an entertainment and shopping area around the Milwaukee Bucks’ home arena, and new residential and office projects over the past seven years.

In years past, when Portland was one of the coolest, fastest-growing cities parodied in shows like “Portlandia,” such a visit would have been like Andy Warhol seeking style tips from Andy Griffith.

Hoan, who was born in Milwaukee, said his hometown can offer a road map with its focus on cleanliness and public safety in the downtown area.

“You would be hard-pressed to find a blade of grass in a park that was unmowed, a sidewalk that you or I would not feel comfortable eating our dinner off of,” said Hoan. “By doing basic services really well, they’ve created a viable place for business.”

When Portland City Commissioner Carmen Rubio got the invite for the Milwaukee trip, she said she thought “Hmm, that’s interesting.” But she found there was much she could learn from the city, even though she was still smarting from the trade that sent Portland’s favorite NBA star, Damian Lillard, to the Bucks.

“What emerged was a friendly camaraderie,” she said “Because we’re a city trying to make it work getting through a tough time.”

Milwaukee Mayor Cavalier Johnson said that municipal leaders across the country have begun paying attention to his long-ignored city

“Things have been very different here where we have businesses that are moving into downtown Milwaukee, we have people coming into downtown,” he said.

America’s downtowns have struggled since the pandemic with a falloff in office workers and a rise in homelessness and petty crime. Once-thriving city centers on the West Coast have been hit particularly hard.

Office and retail vacancy rates in Portland’s central business district soared to new highs, 23% and 7% respectively, in the third quarter of 2023, according to the Portland Metro Chamber. Foot traffic has stagnated this year at around 60% of what it was in 2019, the chamber said. Public drug use has flourished with the state’s new decriminalization law and the rise of fentanyl.

Milwaukee transformed its downtown with a new entertainment and shopping area around the Bucks’ arena, and with new residential and office projects over the past seven years.

Portland has begun taking a more nuts-and-bolts approach. It recently started offering tax credits for businesses that sign or renew leases in the downtown area and have employees working from the office at least half the time. It also gives grants to businesses for security, fixing windows and cleaning graffiti, which Lien has made use of.

In an effort to bring more people downtown, Rubio also backed new incentives earlier this year for converting vacant office space to apartments such as waiving developer fees.

So far small local businesses have stepped up to fill the vacancies downtown. Last month, Portland Gear, a hip apparel company that grew out of a popular Instagram account, celebrated the grand opening of a large store.

“The things that built this city that we all love about it are still here,” said Marcus Harvey, the company’s founder and chief executive. “A few little things that are issues of the times are going to pass.”

The state is also considering what it can do. Gov. Tina Kotek, a Democrat, convened a task force this summer focused on fixing Portland’s downtown. Formal recommendations are to be made in December, but the governor has already directed state police to help crack down on fentanyl dealers in Portland.

“It’s no secret that downtown Portland has faced an onslaught of challenges in recent years that have tarnished some of the characteristics that people love about Oregon’s largest city,” Kotek said in a statement “Concerns about Portland have become a statewide economic issue.”

Still, some larger retailers are giving up on the city center.

REI, an outdoor gear and apparel company based in the Northwest, said earlier this year that it would be closing its store in the downtown area next year. It cited the highest number of break-ins and thefts in two decades, according to a letter it sent to customers.

“The decision to close was based on the continued investment for extra security each year not being sustainable in the long-term as well as unsuccessful lease renewal negotiations with our landlord,” the company said in a statement.

REI spent an extra $800,000 on additional security at its Portland store in 2022, the company said.

Target announced it was closing three Portland stores in September, including one downtown, saying “theft and organized retail crime are threatening the safety of our team and guests, and contributing to unsustainable business performance.”

Some business owners like Lien, the underwear purveyor, questioned the complaints by companies like Target. Lien said that low staffing and no-confrontation policies at big box stores contribute to increased theft as well.

“By just saying ‘Hey, it’s time to either pay for that or put it back,’ 99% of the time they just hand it over and walk out the door,” he said.

After his flirtation with leaving downtown, Lien said he was glad he stayed. Foot traffic is picking up on his block after the Ritz-Carlton opened a new hotel nearby in late October. A revamped city park named for Portland’s famed drag queen Darcelle XV is also set to open across the street from his shop next year.

“There are struggles downtown, but I am optimistic,” he said.

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