I've said it before, and I want to say it again:
We've got to get over a reluctance to talk honestly about downtown's homeless problem. It's possible to both (1) feel compassion toward homeless people and (2) feel bad about how homeless people are making downtown Salem less pleasant for visitors, residents, and business owners.
Downtown Court Street in the morning
Yesterday Carole Smith, who lives downtown and owns property there, sent me the message I've shared below.
In an email to the Salem City Council, Smith describes how a prospective tenant backed out of signing a lease because of the homeless problem; how a friend views downtown; and shares her view that downtown businesses are suffering due to a lack of attention to homelessness by city officials.
Then Smith shares a response she got from City Manager Powers. No member of the City Council replied to her email message. Lastly, you can read Smith's reply to Powers. Here's her message:
Brian, along with several other business and property owners from downtown and businesses north of downtown, I sent an email to the City Council about the problems we have had to address on our own downtown. Here is my email:
After our downtown antique store tenant lost thousands of dollars, was physically assaulted, then died of a stress heart attack -- all as a result of your lack of policy on homeless downtown, we thought we had found the perfect long term tenant for his space. Today he was supposed to come walk through the space. Instead, this is the text we received:
“Carole, I’m hearing from some of my staff that they are not comfortable with being on the street level; safety concerns with homeless at the doorstep. Go ahead and put your for-lease sign up”
The same day I received this email from a friend who normally doesn’t come downtown until later in the day:
This morning I was in Downtown Salem at around 8am - usually it's later in the day when I'm down here, but I was so surprised by the number of people either sleeping on sidewalks, (2 people within 30ft of the Gov Cup) or people with mental health issues wandering around the core downtown area.
Not a welcoming environment. Just four or five years ago it did not look like that down here. I realize the city leaders can't fix this issue overnight, but I'm wondering if the issue is more about not taking the problem seriously, or not knowing what to do, or worse, not caring enough.
Also seems to be more empty storefronts than normal, at least on the corner of Chemeketa and Liberty, on the west side of the street. On the east side, the bank that had been vacant for ages has been torn down, but now it's just an empty lot full of water.
Even the Beanery (Allan Bros) has shuttered. Is the old Brick restaurant location still in remodeling? The old beauty school building on Court and Commercial is still vacant, and has been for a long time.
Is it because business happens at a pedestrian pace in Salem? Why are so many storefronts empty for extended periods of time?"
Everyone downtown is tired to death of your inaction. If you don’t start solving this problem you won’t have a downtown. The last time I contacted you about this problem, not one of you responded to my email. Have you forgotten you REPRESENT US?
Why are you not helping solve this problem before it kills every business downtown? How many more merchants have to die of stress heart attacks, how many more businesses have to move out of downtown, and how many more possible tenants are going to pass on leasing space downtown before you realize it's your job to help us solve these problems?
Not one city councilor responded but the City Manager sent this email:
Thank you for contacting the City with your concerns regarding the state of the downtown. Any incident that causes someone concern is unfortunate. The Salem Police Downtown Enforcement Team is dedicated to keeping the downtown area safe. The Urban Renewal Agency provides grants to downtown property owners for security and safety improvements. The City is continuing partnerships to help and house the homeless.
Please be assured the City is committed to a vibrant, growing downtown. New businesses continue to come downtown. Businesses are leaving spaces to expand and grow into larger spaces downtown rather than choosing to leave downtown. Existing businesses are opening new businesses and investing even more in our downtown. Downtown is attracting major investment from large developers from outside the city. There are many recent examples of businesses and property owners investing in the downtown.
o Two new women’s clothing boutiques have opened. One is on Center Street between Liberty and Commercial, and the other is on Liberty Street in the Metropolitan Building. The latter opened just in the last few months.
o The Gray Building (former Brick restaurant) – The entire second story, previously undeveloped and vacant, has been leased with multiple (3-4) new business. Bigwig donuts has opened on the first floor in a portion of the former Brick space.
o This week the Noble Wave brewpub is opening on Liberty in the Reed Opera House taking the space that Brown’s Towne Lounge vacated when they moved further down the street to expand.
o Perle Holistic Skincare opened in a ground-floor space at 170 Liberty St.
o Issacs and Valley Dance Academy moved into downtown in the last year at Commercial and Court.
o 195 Commercial Street was purchased by LMC Construction and Sturgeon Development Partners for the development of a $43 million dollar, 123 room hotel and they are preparing for design review by Historic Landmarks Commission.
o 440 State Street is nearing completion of its buildout and will operate multiple eateries similar to the Pine Street Market in Old Town in Portland.
o Koz Development is going through land use approval to develop 146 residential units at the corner of Commercial and State.
o Rudy’s has leased the space on the corner of Chemeketa and Commercial and will be opening another business in this location.
o The site where the former Wells Fargo building was demolished is in due diligence for a purchase and a pre-application meeting has been held for a potential mixed use project with retail and housing.
o The Nordstrom’s building is under contract and in its due diligence phase. This is the second prospective buyer for this property, which has been under contract for about 9 out of the 12 months it has been on the market for sale.
o The tanning salon in Liberty Plaza has moved to another location downtown. They did not leave downtown.
Most of these new businesses have been the beneficiaries of new construction or renovations that have received support from the Riverfront-Downtown URA grant program.
Thank you for your interest and contributions to a prosperous downtown.
City of Salem
And my response today:
Thank you for your reply.
Reading your reply was like going to the doctor to discuss cancer and all the doctor can talk about is all the healthy patients he saw that day. It doesn’t matter about the healthy patients, your downtown has cancer - mostly caused by the refusal of the city to address problems that only government can solve.
When people ask for help solving problems in the City of Salem, it is offensive to receive a reply pointing out how many new businesses are coming downtown.
Don’t you realize they will soon see the corpse of downtown that we all have to live with? I guess you are okay as long as there is a fresh batch of dupes coming along each year. You don’t care to communicate and solve the cancer you are letting infiltrate almost all businesses downtown .
For decades, downtown has hosted the lowest rents and the highest vacancy. And that makes you proud that new businesses are drawn to cheap and vacant. Great job.
Can you please furnish an equally researched list of businesses who have left downtown over the past 2 years? I think you will find they are NOT leaving downtown to expand, they have lost all their money and they closed. Long established businesses have not been able to find buyers when retirement looms.
Our neighbors' building value was lowered from $380,000 value in 2017 to $280,000 in 2018. Marion County lowered their building value by $100,000. What does that say about the health of downtown? Please supply the proof for your statement that businesses are leaving to expand outside of downtown.
You have abandoned the historic business and property owners downtown and are now only interested in hearing or helping the younger business/property owners. Look at your advisory boards like DAB [Downtown Advisory Board]. Do you really feel the age group reflects the downtown community or just the part of downtown your staff want to listen to and control?
My email was intended for the City Council. They represent the citizens, not the City Manager.
Again, the picture you displayed with your comments included a restaurant that I worked in during my college days (although owned by a different company).
In the early '70s we had bum problems as well.
You know what else we had? Cops. Cops with billy clubs.
What do we have now?
FAILING LIBERAL POLICY!!!
Until our nation comes to terms with the moral cancer that is rampant and unbridled ultra-liberalism,
the problems that you describe will only continue to swirl in the bowl.
You can't have it both ways!
Time to GET REAL. Liberalism is a self destructive, mental disorder.
Make your choice.
Posted by: Skyline | May 21, 2019 at 10:03 PM
I appreciate you giving permission to both care about the homeless AND care about a clean and thriving downtown. We don’t have to choose sides. Instead let’s use our time and resources to creativity problem solve. I see the cops with billy clubs comment above and I
inwardly groan. That’s absolutely the WORST of both worlds. Not only do we dehumanize fellow citizens without homes with the use of violence, but also don’t save any money. In fact, criminalizing homelessness just costs more. Billy clubs aren’t magic wands. They don’t make homeless people actually disappear. They just send them to the ER or to jail where they cost the public a heckofalot. Instead we should be using that money to humanely relocate and rehouse
Posted by: Kate Kangas | May 22, 2019 at 04:02 PM
Holy smokes, homelessness is a very complicated and difficult problem. Mostly, it's a problem for those who are homeless. Yes, there are people with mental health issues and people with addiction issues and some with both. (I often wonder how long I'd stay sober myself if I had to live outdoors.) I really don't have any answers, even though I have spent quite a lot of time thinking about this. I agree that it is unrealistic to expect the city to "solve" the problem. And chasing people out of downtown sends them elsewhere, where people will be as unhappy and freaked out as people downtown are now. (If you doubt this, read the Nextdoor posts about someone putting up a tent in a neighborhood.) Is there anything a regular citizen can do to help? As opposed to growling at public officials or at others who are doing what they think helps?
Posted by: Christine Chute | May 23, 2019 at 11:27 AM
Hey, failing ultra liberal,
Here's some more of your failing policy coming to Salem city steets:
Posted by: Skyline | August 31, 2019 at 10:02 PM