3.10.2010

City of Bend: You are Doing it Wrong

Being a Portlander, one of my favorite places to get out of town to for a few days is Bend, Oregon. It is part ski town, part hippster scence and part retirement area. The weather is great, the scenery is beautiful and Mt. Bachelor is just down the road.

Despite all of these great attributes, Bend has struggled in the past few years. Businesses have shut down, unemployment has skyrocketed, foreclosures are on the rise and their general economy often ranks in the top 10 worst in America.

I am over in Bend right now while my wife is here for work. I decided to find a nice coffee shop to work at this morning and ended up in a trendy looking section of downtown Bend. Unfortunately for business owners, downtown is dead. Empty commercial space lines most streets, restaurants sit virtually empty and the roads are all but a ghost town. If you are a small business owner, downtown Bend is probably one of the worst places for your storefront in all of Oregon right now.

I parked and walked into a wonderful coffee shop called Thump on Minnesota Street. They serve Stumptown and offer free wifi. The place was packed, unlike so many of their neighbors. Afterward, I asked the owner for a lunch restaurant suggestion and he pointed me to one of his favorites, and now one of mine after the amazing sandwich I just had. All told, I spent 3 hours in downtown Bend, found 2 great businesses to frequent and spent money.

When I returned to my car, it sat alone, the only vehicle parked on that side of the street for an entire block. I had a green envelope on my windshield; I was issued a parking ticket. Apparently that street, and most other downtown bend streets, have a 2 hour parking limit. I was a patron at locally owned businesses, spending money for 1 hour too long. Shame on me.

See, Bend, when you are in the type of economic situation that you’re in, parking tickets on empty streets are the last thing you should worry about. Sure, I know that I violated the time restriction, guilty as charged. However, I was one of very few people spending money in your community. I was supporting the businesses that have managed to stay alive during one of the worst economic downturns in modern history. One that names Bend as its poster child for what went wrong.

Instead of enforcing laws that keep people from spending more time and money in your once vibrant downtown, why not remove those restrictions and encourage people to hang around? I need a place for dinner tonight and will want to have a coffee while working again tomorrow. Should I go to downtown Bend for those trips or not? As I look at my $22 parking ticket from the City of Bend, I can tell you I’ll take my business elsewhere.

Bend, save the parking tickets for when you unemployment drops below 17%, for when your housing prices are no longer down 40%-60% from their highs and for when businesses start opening in your downtown, rather than closing.

9 comments:

The Queen of Chaos said...

We don't always see eye to eye on issues, but I have to agree here. I hope you send this w/ your payment and make sure that your return address is written clearly.

Anonymous said...

I like this piece...

Anonymous said...

Jeff, you missed some important facts in your post. First, your statement "empty commercial space lines most streets, restaurants sit virtually empty and the roads are all but a ghost town" is just plain wrong. I eat out downtown several nights a week and there is ALWAYS a crowd. In addition, although several downtown businesses have closed, and equal number have reopened. There certainly aren't empty commercial spaces on most streets.

Second, if you did receive a parking ticket then you also received a flyer with that ticket explaining the voucher program. All you had to do was mail back the ticket with a copy of your receipt from a downtown business and a copy of your drivers license and the citiation would have been waived. No $22 dollar ticket, no problem. Why didn't you do that?

You could also have parked in the giant parking structure across the street from Thump for free for three hours. Jeff, we're sorry you got a ticket. But next time take some personal responsibility and read the signs, the flyer that came with the ticket. If you had, you could have parked for free.

Jmartens said...

@Anonymous #2: there was no flyer or explanation of a voucher system. Guess someone wasn't paying attention when they issued my ticket?

I am fine with paying the ticket...yes, I missed the signs. But you miss my point, when things are as bad as they are in Bend right now, giving out parking tickets for time violations is counter productive to turning around a once vibrant city center.

I disagree about your assessment of the downtown area. Sure, there are two blocks that are consistently busy (1 block of Bond and 1 block on Wall), but the city is a ghost town compared to what it has been previously.

Guess where I went for coffee and breakfast this morning? Hint: not downtown Bend!

In closing, giggled a little when I was driving out of town today and passed a retail space with a sign reading "Boom Town." They were out of business.

Anonymous said...

Jeff, we'll agree to disagree. I guess that's why you live in Portland. The reason for two hour parking, by the way, is because employees were taking all the spots close to businesses. Customers couldn't find a place to park and would bypass downtown.

So, doesn Portland offer free unlimited downtown parking?

lester said...

Boom Town was a record store that found itself unable to compete with the internet. The building just sold, by the way, and will be open soon with a new business. Not sure what time you were in downtown Bend to find it dead but your observation about closed businesses in downtown Bend is a real headscratcher. Downtown Bend has a 5% vacancy rate...that's right, 95% of the storefronts are in business. Restaurants are doing well. Parking is at a premium. About the only time the streets are near empty is before 10 am and after midnight. And for those who want to stay more than two hours in free parking on the street, there's a parking garage.

Anonymous said...

I'm a little late to the party, but as a Bend business owner who is riding the wave since January of 2008, I have to disagree somewhat with your assesment of downtown. Frankly, downtown is doing MUCH better now than it was a year ago. And some of the Third Street vacancies are starting to fill. As a Portlander, what looks bad to you looks like signs of hope to us Bendites.

Sorry you got a ticket in downtown. Bend had briefly discussed doing away with free 2-hour parking this winter, but was dissuaded by downtown business owners. I think a two hour free policy is very fair. As someone previously stated, someone probably took you for an employee who didn't want to park a little farther away and save the prime parking for paying customers. There are signs all over downtown that clearly state the parking policy.

You have to understand that in a down economy like this, the city is looking for revenue sources wherever it can find them. It's a good thing to keep in mind while watching your speed on our city streets, too.

Anonymous said...

Just received a 22.00 parking ticket. Arrived for a 1 pm lunch at the Pine Tavern at 12:45. Returned to car at 2:53 pm. Eagles must watch the parking lot. 8 minutes late means 22.00 FINE. NO VOUCHER EXPLANATION in site. The hearings officer is employed by the Diamond Parking Services ? Isn't that a conflict of interest ? Sending the 22.00 and a pledge not to visit downtown when next in Bend,Or.

Anonymous said...

Yes...eagles must be out there. I parked at 10:43 am, had a coffee and lunch. Returned to my car at 1:00 (not late from lunch either) and 12:56 was the ticket.
If I ever come back to that area....I'll know to park in one place, have my coffee and then drive around the block 3-4 times looking for another spot, so I can have lunch.
Great area...it's been years since I lived in Bend and used to work in that area. I walked a little of the streets window shopping and in augh of the great places.
So shame on me for enjoying more than 2 hours, if even for a smidge, and being impressed.
What options do you propose for shoppers? Unless you move your vehicle, there isn't any....oh yeah there is....$22 to park for a while!

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