The most popular person in the house after a “town hall” style meeting this evening to determine the fate of the city’s new “entertainment district” might have been Paul van Orden.
As the meeting dispersed, Portland’s noise control officer was ringed with Old Town residents, all inquiring what types of sticks he could wield that would silence the district’s noisy night clubs.
The ultimate fate of the “entertainment district”— the name given to the bar-filled section of Old Town streets closed off on weekend nights since December—is uncertain. But van Orden’s popularity, at least, seems a sure signal of where it’s headed.
And it seems likely the district will carry on until the end of the year. Mayor Charlie Hales announced at the meeting he’d be crafting an ordinance to put to a city council vote in two weeks.
“Let’s continue this as a pilot project for six more months,” he said.
Hales presented the business owners, neighborhood residents and social services staff gathered at Bud Clark Commons his ideas for the future of the district. It should include more food options, he said, as well as more outside seating. The district could shoot for a “street festival” atmosphere, Hales suggested, but with plenty of attention to how noisy the neighborhood’s bars are allowed to be.
“It oughta look like a place that’s inviting, and where people want to go.” He added, almost as an aside: “Oh, and we need money.”
That’s likely to be a sticking point. Because as rosy a picture as Hales painted of the attractive, bustling district he envisions, the city’s not going to pay the tab forever. Through March, the street closures cost nearly $10,000 a month.
Hales will instead probably look to expand parking meter hours in the area, possibly until 2 am. And he’s frequently suggested lately an “assessment district,” where area property owners all contribute to a community pot that takes care of improvements, is a viable option.
But, as the Mercury's reported, those districts need community buy-in, and the community this evening seemed largely opposed to street closures. Many opposed the notion of a bar district to begin with.
Managers at Old Town Pizza and the Boiler Room reported diminished sales after the street closures. Residents complained of noisy, ill-behaved bar-goers.
"What about us? We're not benefitting," said Jason Kersten, a resident of the Estate Building, located on 3rd and Couch. "You've got people trying to get their life together."
But for all his talk of dialogue and addressing neighborhood concerns, Hales' position appeared not to shift in the face of the criticisms. Instead, he told the audience (many of whom, by the way, gave him high marks) that these problems wouldn't be solved overnight, and that he intends to press on with an ordinance.
"I'm going to put something out in the next week," he said. "I do believe we should consider this pilot project through the summer, in some fashion."
Which brings us back to van Orden, the city noise control officer. He's already armed Old Town's police officers with noise measurement devices, and as the neighborhood ramps up into the bustling summer season, he expects he'll be active.
One bar that, it seems, should clearly be on notice: the Barrel Room, which has a large open courtyard where DJs frequently set up shop. Tempering the attendant noise, "shouldn't be a problem," van Orden told a neighborhood resident after the meeting.
The neighbor approved.