Built in 1910, the Hawthorne Bridge is one of the enduring images of Portland. But in recent years, it has become as much a blessing as a finicky curse to the commercial district which derives both its name and the majority of its traffic from the bridge. Since 70 percent of of Hawthorne's customers use the bridge, merchants felt a financial pinch when the bridge was closed two years ago for construction.
Now, with the bridge closed for the past three weekends and plans to close over Memorial Day weekend for filming of The Hunted, a handful of merchants are crying foul once again. This time, they're blaming City Hall for not doing enough to prepare them for the chokehold on traffic that Paramount's blockbuster has brought and, moreover, not to let them in on the negotiations with the movie company.
"I didn't know anything about it until all was said and done," says Patti Licheter from Naked City Clothing. "It was most un-Portland; I was just floored."
The bridge so enchanted director William Friedkin that he relocated "The Hunted" from its original setting in Seattle, to Portland. City officials have cheered that an estimated $22 million will pour into the city--wages to local laborers and revenue from hotel bills and tourism. But some merchants are finding that a rising economic tide is not buoying their businesses. Instead, says Ursula Dohn, owner of Savvy Plus, her business has been cut in half during the filming.
"The decision was made without talking to merchants," says Dohn. "No one from the City or County contacted me."
What angers merchants most is not Paramount's traffic-halting decision to film in Portland, but the manner by which city and county offices negotiated the deal. While some business and neighborhood associations were invited to the negotiating table, other businesses feel as if their independent nature left them marginalized and locked out of the decision-making process. According to several business owners, Mayor Katz fired off a pass-the-buck e-mail to one merchant shrugging, "It's not my bridge." (Technically, the county controls the bridge; although merchants point out that it is the business district, not the bridge, that is at the true focus of attention.)
The prologue to the simmering debate began in February when Paramount first approached the city. At that time, the movie company requested that the Hawthorne Bridge be shut for three solid weeks. In turn, city and council officials did consult with the Hawthorne Blvd. Business Association and Bicycle Transportation Alliance, eventually striking a deal to pay Multnomah County $20,000 to use and close the bridge for four weekends.
But, with many of the boutiques lining Hawthorne being independently owned--and independently minded--many storeowners are not associated with the primary bargaining associations. Several merchants say they found out about closures weeks later by reading Southeast Examiner.
To amplify her complaints, Dohn of Savvy Plus hired a well-respected local attorney, Lou Savage, who served for four years as District Director for U.S. Congressman Ron Wyden. Meetings between Savage, city officials, and representatives from Paramount produced several encouraging promises to remedy the constricted traffic flow.
According to several parties at the negotiations, the meeting served as a catalyst for a marketing campaign; "Star Hunt," in which patrons gather stamps from local businesses in an attempt to win assorted prizes from Paramount. According to others, city officials and Paramount also promised to run public-service announcements on major media outlets throughout Portland; these announcements would have informed potential shoppers about the bridge closures and recommended alternative routes to the district.
The announcements, however, never materialized; Dohn was told that the businesses did not have nonprofit status and, therefore, did not qualify for public-service announcements. And the Star Hunt has been categorized by some as an impotent marketing scheme.
"People just come in and get a stamp," said one storeowner who preferred to stay anonymous. "They never buy anything."
Additional gestures by Paramount have only frustrated local merchants. The movie company has pledged a reported $50,000 to build a "bike oasis" along Hawthornea long-promised biking shelter. Dohn believes this offer only typifies the favoritism and cronyism that led to the initial frustration; she accused the Bicycle Transportation Alliance of lobbying Paramount while other concerned parties were not given a chance to voice their requests.
Both City Hall and Paramount have stood by their decision and their deal. Mary Volm, who has been the point person for City Hall, pointed out that it is only a few merchants who are complaining. "It was a chance to make lemonade," she added.
Likewise, representatives from Paramount have expressed disbelief and lukewarm empathy. "It is unprecedented," said Jo Ann Guzzetta, supervising site manager for The Hunted, referring to money Paramount has put into appeasing local merchants. In 1995, Guzzetta worked on location in North Portland for Mr. Holland's Opus. In comparison, she claims, Paramount has responded by pledging three times their intended advertising budget for Hawthorne businesses inconvenienced by The Hunted. She also pointed out that Hollywood Pictures shut down an entire North Portland neighborhood to shoot location sites for Mr. Holland's Opus for several weeks without any complaints.
"You cannot make everyone happy," noted Guzzetta. "There are some businesses that may not have been doing well," she continued, "and this is an opportunity for them to be heard."