Mayor Charlie Hales' push to create a vibrant, walkable "entertainment district" in Old Town took a step forward earlier this month, when the Portland Police Bureau began fielding applications from bars and restaurants who want to extend seating into the area's cordoned streets.
That's a potential game changer for a district that's struggled to find its feet this summer. Despite the mayor's talk of creating a "street festival" atmosphere, and the addition of portable toilets in recent weeks, the closed-off segments of NW 3rd and adjacent streets still feel empty and eerie most Saturdays.
But more than two weeks after the city announced it would accept applications, only one Old Town business has taken them up on the offer. According to documents obtained by the Mercury via open records request, the Dixie Tavern, at NW 3rd and Couch, is the lone bar in the area with aspiring streetward.
The tavern's owners, Concept Entertainment, applied August 16 to install a 780-square-foot seating area in NW Couch during the weekend closures. The enclosure would hold 48 seats and house a food stand, according to plans Concept provided. Portland police approved the plan a week ago.
City rules dictate the seating enclosures can extend no more than 10 feet into the road, and must be staffed by at least one bouncer. They can contain performers and food carts, the city says, but no "adult entertainers/nude dancers," speakers or games. Businesses have to file an additional application with the Oregon Liquor Control Commission if they want alcohol allowed in street seating areas.
Begun under then-Mayor Sam Adams late last year, the entertainment zone concept has been a priority of Hales' who has repeatedly pushed it as a way to make the nightclub district more safe. Not everyone's been enthused about the project, though. Businesses complain it's hurting the bottom line, and Old Town residents don't like the legitimacy it gives to rowdy antics that can take place in the area. Even several city commissioners, who acquiesced earlier this year to Hales' request for an extension to the program, have had hard questions.
The pilot project is now scheduled to end October 27.