Is Portland finished?


Last updated 11/23/2021 at Noon

Bill Bartlett

“The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated” is a popular misquote attributed to author Samuel Clemens, known by his pen name, Mark Twain. The oft repeated quote is based on a letter Twain sent to a newspaper reporter who had asked Twain about rumors that he was dying.

The quote is an exaggeration. It is used widely in praise of Twain’s skill as a humorist or to refer to something that appears dead or hopeless but still has a slim chance of success. If you are interested, here’s what Clemens actually said: “I can understand perfectly how the report of my illness got about, I have even heard on good authority that I was dead. [A cousin] was ill in London two or three weeks ago, but is well now. The report of my illness grew out of this illness. The report of my death was an exaggeration.”

Are reports of Portland’s death also an exaggeration? Of course, but one can see how the City of Roses is bombing on the image stage. It’s been a rough couple of years for Portland. Crime, specifically murder, is through the roof. It’s erroneously assumed that violent protesters or the homeless are at the heart of the crime spree.

There are 67 homicides so far this year in Portland, surpassing the previous full-year record of 66 in 1987. With more than two months remaining in the year, Portland will likely shatter its previous high mark.

Gang warfare

The city is wracked by gang violence, fear, and frustration. Through October, Portland has witnessed more than 1,000 shootings, with some 314 people injured by bullets. Firearms have accounted for three-quarters of homicides. Police attribute much of the gunfire to gangs, fights, and retaliation killings, but they are also terrorizing bystanders caught in the crossfire — from people mourning at vigils and sitting in cars to children playing in a park.

Homicides increased nationally by almost 30% from 2019 to 2020, based on FBI data. In Portland, however, deadly violence — exacerbated by the pandemic — grew at a faster rate than nearly all major cities, with an 83% increase in homicides in 2020.

Portland has recorded more homicides in 2021 than some larger cities, including San Francisco, and twice as many murders as Seattle, its larger regional neighbor.

Tourists and business travelers shun Portland

Travel Portland, the branding group charged with marketing Portland to the world, presented a sobering report to the Portland City Council October 27. Their study shows the biggest problem is the loss of convention and meeting business. And even bigger fish, Portland was in the running for the NCAA Women’s Final Four, but lost to Tampa for 2025 and Phoenix for 2026, losses blamed on the city’s current woes.

“Portland’s specific issues related to civil unrest and public safety concerns has exasperated the negative occurrences and declining attendances and group cancellations,” said Travel Portland’s CEO, Jeff Miller. “While the region struggles with solutions for local safety concerns, the impact on meetings and convention in future months and years remains evident, as Portland hotels continue to experience cancellations well into the future.”

Hotel occupancy is a good barometer of how things are not so rosy in the Rose City. For the week ending October 22, Portland’s hotels were only 54% full as compared to Central Oregon’s 70%. Only 792,571 passengers transited PDX in 2020, down from 2,180,154 the year before. Much of that is COVID related but a big chunk is folks plain not wanting to go there out of fear and revulsion.

Today, a round-trip ticket for mid-December from New York to Portland is $366, nonstop. It’s $796 from the Big Apple to Redmond. Planes are more full coming to our little patch of paradise. Just that simple. Investors are shunning Portland, too. The Urban Land Institute in a report titled “Emerging Trends in Real Estate 2021” shows that a survey of more than 1,300 lenders, investors, developers, and other national real estate experts found Portland the third-most desirable real estate market in the nation in 2017. For 2021, it now ranks 66th of 80 cities on the list.

In Kidder Matthews’ third quarter report, Portland’s office direct vacancies reached historic highs increasing 30.2% year over year. Fully 19.4% of Portland’s central business district is vacant.

Much is said of the homeless problem in Portland contributing to its alleged demise when in fact the number of houseless does not make the top 10 or top 20 according to Forbes magazine’s rankings. Eugene with 432 per 100,000 has the highest per capita rate by far.

How bad is it?

Driving around is depressing. The city’s graffiti-removal bill alone is $3.4 million. Another $2.3 million is allocated to removing trash and debris and clearing the worst homeless encampments. This is in addition to the $2 million ODOT has been funded to help in the effort.

Talk is cheap. If you want to see it sort of firsthand, go to YouTube and search: “How bad is it in Portland Oregon” and choose from hundreds of dystopian videos that have accumulated millions of collective views. You will come away shaking your head.

Keep in mind that we are talking about Portland, the city, not all of Portland.

Portland is in a deep hole and it pains a lot of Sisters folk with deep connections to the city to see it this way. It’ll be some time before it digs itself out. Let’s hope its best days are ahead.


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