“What happened to the Alder Street food carts? Did the new area for those carts work? I pass by the supposed area but don’t see them anywhere.” —Ethan Chen
It’s been eight months since Friends of the Green Loop announced that a small park on the edge of downtown would be the new home for the Alder Street food carts, and Ethan is right — there are no visible signs of progress there.
But behind the scenes, Friends of the Green Loop and city officials have been building support from neighbors and hatching a plan to make this food cart pod a permanent success, unlike a smaller experiment at the site several years ago.
Last week, I talked with Commissioner Eudaly’s chief of staff Marshall Runkel, who’s one of the people spearheading the project. Here’s what I learned:
The Park Blocks location is confirmed
The new food cart pod will be anchored around a small city park just south of Burnside Street, between 8th and Park Ave.
The plan is for the food carts to take over the adjacent streets — which will be closed to traffic — and for seating to be set up in the park.
Conveniently, the park is already equipped with public restrooms inside a pair of identical brick buildings that are, well, a little mysterious.
According to Runkel, parks officials aren’t sure when or why those structures were built, or whether the park around them even has a name. But it’s turning out to be a great fit.
“When I first visited that site and started kicking rocks around, it was like a lightbulb went off,” Runkel said. “It’s an incredible little space.”
This pod won’t be exactly the same
The new site is expected to have room for between 24 and 26 food carts — which is a lot smaller than the pod on Alder Street.
Runkel says about 27 of the Alder Street food carts are being stored at a city-owned lot near the Broadway Bridge, while about 50 other carts have either relocated to another pod or closed up shop completely.
That means some displaced food cart owners might not have a home right away. But Runkel hopes it won’t stay that way for long.
Based on the financial modeling, Runkel expects the project’s startup costs to be repaid in 12 to 24 months, allowing future income to be reinvested in new projects around the city.
“What the food cart experiment has proved is that it can inject new life and activity into an area,” he says. “The long-term vision is to add pods all along the Green Loop.”
The timeline is still TBD
A few months ago, Friends of the Green Loop floated the idea that a grand opening might happen as soon as January.
That obviously didn’t happen — but if the project doesn’t hit any more roadblocks, it might come soon.
According to Runkel, there are only two big hurdles left to clear: building the electrical infrastructure for the site (a process that could start any week now) and preparing the pod for a successful launch.
“You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression,” Runkel says. “The first time anybody goes down to this site, it needs to be well organized and maintained. We’ve got to put our best foot forward.”
Why this project means so much
The effort to find a new home for the Alder Street food carts is about more than bringing back your favorite lunchtime options (as important as that is).
It’s also a chance for the city to address “development-driven displacement,” aka what happens when Ritz-Carlton hotels and big restaurant chains replace mom-and-pop shops and food cart pods.
For years, the Alder Street pod was a hub of economic opportunity for immigrant entrepreneurs, right smack in the middle of downtown. The goal now is to make sure that can still exist in our city, even as Portland grows and develops.
“That’s the number one motivation for working on this,” Runkel says. “It not only provides opportunity for a bunch of these immigrant entrepreneurs who were displaced. It also becomes the foundation for a transformational vision for the city.”