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New ‘Midtown Beer Garden’ seeks to restore community to downtown Portland

<i>KPTV</i><br/>“We decided that hey
“We decided that hey

By Karli Olson

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    PORTLAND Oregon (KPTV) — As some businesses have chosen to leave downtown Portland due to pandemic impacts or crime, others are working to revive the feeling of community and safety.

That’s the purpose of the new Midtown Beer Garden and food truck pod hosted by Expensify and restaurant group Chefstable opening Sunday, and organizers say they want to change those negative perceptions of the area.

The space sits on the lot of the former 5th Avenue food cart pod, which became a casualty of the pandemic.

“We decided that hey, let’s step in and try to make it better for all the carts that made it through all the BS of COVID, and also let’s bring in some new food carts and make it the biggest and best food cart pod downtown,” said project manager Matt Allen. “There’s no better time than now.”

It’s a tall order as businesses large and small, from REI to small coffee shops, have cited crime and lack of safety as the reason they pulled out of downtown.

Jin Park is using the opportunity to open his new food cart, Bop Cha, Eat Korean Food. He’s worked in the local food cart scene for more than 15 years, and he says he’s witnessed so many of his fellow business owners take a hit.

“As you probably already know, there’s a lot of food carts shutting down right now currently unfortunately, due to the pandemic, due to all the violence that’s happening in Portland,” Park said.

Those problems and dwindling businesses have made it hard to bounce back from the pandemic, with a study from the Portland Metro Chamber finding that foot traffic is still down by 40% from pre-pandemic levels downtown.

People walking through downtown on Sunday said that additions like this food cart pod give them hope.

“It has to, I mean it’s necessary, it’s great, it’s fabulous,” said David Loftus, a Portland Streetcar driver. “Portland’s not going to recover unless people take a stand and say we’re taking the city back.”

“I just feel like in recent years that downtown area’s just gotten gloomy in a lot of places, and you don’t feel as safe to come down just from people talking about Portland,” said Josh Pontefract, who stopped by to check out the food cart space. “But then you see places like this, and it’s not as bad as what people are saying at all.”

Cleaning up a corner for community, food and music is the immediate goal, but long-term, organizers hope the space will make a statement about what downtown Portland can be again.

“It’s just an opportunity to revive Portland in a sense,” Park added. “I think this is one of the standing ground of where it can start to bring back people into the city once more, that it’s safe, it’s actually safe, you can enjoy your stay here within the city limits instead of being afraid and being worried to watch your back all the time.”

This grand opening is kicking off with about 20 food carts, but organizers say they hope to add at least five more in the coming months.

On Sunday evening they’re welcoming local Portland musicians like The Last Artful, Dodgr to the stage.

The event runs from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the corner of Southwest Harvey Milk Street and Southwest Fifth Avenue.

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