$1.2 million federal grant to make Portland’s street plazas permanent

$1.2 million federal grant to make Portland’s street plazas permanent

By:  John Ross Ferrara

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) - Some of downtown Portland's public street plazas and outdoor dining areas that were introduced in response to the COVID-19 pandemic are likely to become permanent.

The Portland Bureau of Transportation announced Friday that it was awarded $1.2 million from the U.S. Economic Development Administration to help create 32,000 square feet of street plazas. The project, PBOT said, is designed to promote tourism and economic recovery Downtown.

The city sought out the funding following Transportation Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty's request to make these designed spaces permanent installments. The awarded grant was funded through the American Rescue Plan - a $1.9 trillion rescue package created to help Americans financially recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.

"During this pandemic, we learned how important it is to use our outdoor public space for community members to come together," Hardesty was quoted as saying in a press release. "We are so grateful to the Biden Administration and our Congressional delegation members for this federal support. Last year, I directed PBOT to make our street plazas and outdoor dining programs permanent. Plazas like these downtown will help us make Portland a more inclusive, equitable place, and help grow our small businesses and cultural destinations."

Pride Plaza located at SW 12th Harvey Milk Street, designed to be a "safe space" for community gatherings, commerce and public art during the pandemic, is among the installments that will become permanent under the city’s current plans. The planning and community-involvement phases for Harvey Milk Plaza will start in early 2023. Construction is anticipated to begin by fall of 2023.

An artist’s rendering of the revamped South Park Blocks with the proposed Green Loop multiuse path. | PBOT

The street plaza project also aims to create active, "green" spaces that will connect downtown’s Cart Blocks, which houses food carts displaced by the new 35-story Ritz Carlton, with O’Bryant Square Park (currently closed) and the still-unnamed park referred to as Ankeny Park West, located between SW Park Ave. and SW 8th Street and W Burnside and SW Ankeny Streets. The changes would represent the first installment of the city’s Green Loop project. If completed, the proposed 6-mile long park would create a circular track of tree-covered pedestrian plazas that connect Portland’s Central City neighborhoods on the east and west sides of the Willamette River.

Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley called the awarded funding a win for Portlanders and tourists.

"A strong recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic includes making community improvements that will have a lasting impact," Merkley said. "With these EDA funds from the American Rescue Plan, Pride Plaza will be constructed, creating dozens of good-paying jobs as well as creating a safe and usable community space. This funding to construct this plaza is a win for both locals and visitors alike."