It was a fabulous and sunny week in Downtown Bend!
The primary item that I want to report on today is our recent Merchant Meeting. This meeting was the first one that we have held in-person in over a year. We had great attendance and we talked about several different items. Thank you to Dan, at The Commons Café & Taproom for hosting a COVID-safe outdoor environment.
The DBBA hosts Merchant Meetings on a variety of topics throughout the year. Our recent meeting, rather than being educational/lecture based, was simply a Q&A/discussion. While our primary objective was to discuss re-opening the Downtown district as COVID19 recedes and regulations are lifted in the coming months, we ended up discussing a variety of topics; parking, parklets, bathrooms, communication, and the future of Downtown Bend. Here is a quick recap of what was discussed on each of these subjects:
Prior to this meeting, we sent out a survey on reopening events in Downtown Bend. Among other things, this survey informed us that about 90% of merchants were ready to welcome back First Friday Art Walk. Other information this survey gave us is that merchants were concerned about the return of larger festivals that close the streets for multiple days in Downtown Bend. Many merchants reported that even in the mist of the COVID19 global pandemic, there sales were increased during the times that multi-day street closures would have normally occurred in Downtown. We also learned that merchants were excited about the return of parades to the district, and the reopening of the Tower Theatre. If you did not get a chance to complete the survey, you are a business or building owner in Downtown Bend, and you would like to share your thoughts with us, please click here to complete the survey.
The bulk of the discussion at the meeting ended up being about parking. I have now been with the DBBA for 5 years, and parking has always been on of the primary conversations. As I always say, “Not having enough parking is a good problem to have – it means we’re thriving”. When you are managing a large district, you are never bereft of problems, and here at the DBBA we have learned that all problems are solvable – but some problems are better than others to have. We would rather be solving a parking capacity problem then solving the problem of having empty parking a lack of business traffic to our merchants. So, starting from a place of gratitude for our abundance, we are always happy to discuss how to make parking better in downtown bend. Here were some of the concerns that we heard from merchants (if you were there and I missed anything, or you have another concern you would like me to address it, please email me)
The first and largest parking concern was regarding communication. Merchants felt like communication about how to park could be greatly increased. They requested new/additional signage, more brochures, posters for doors, and more press and social media efforts to educate the local customer. Merchants also suggest a volunteer program, or perhaps the DPAC could volunteer to put in a few hours talking to people about parking in the Mirror Pond lots during Downtown’s busiest times this summer. Merchants requested another round of the “Sasquatch Says” educational campaign flyers as things start to open and summer traffic returns to Downtown Bend. One idea that I thought was particularly fun was to have a large metal sasquatch by the lot that was holding a sign describing how to park. This would match the educational campaign and assure that parking instruction was not hard to find.
We also discussed time limits and loading zones. There was consensus that merchants wanted to explore the idea of allowing longer times in the Mirror Pond lots. Merchants agreed that customers did not mind paying for parking if it made their stay in Downtown Bend more convenient. Allowing for longer parking times in the Mirror Pond lots might help accomplish this goal for visitors who find themselves staying longer than 4 hours. There was some discussion about increasing the length of the street parking (increasing from 2 hours), but there was not a consensus on this. The DBBA explained why the various parking time limits had been created, and how it helps accommodate each type of visitor to Downtown Bend. The DBBA also documented requests for loading zones and agreed to bring them to the DPAC.
Parking availability and capacity were discussed. An oft-repeated complaint came up about the lack of on-street parking. We discussed how merchants can educate and encourage their customers to use the parking garage and parking lots to help remedy this problem. We also discussed that increasing the time limit on the street would only exasperate this issue and that even if we were to build another parking garage, it would not necessarily relieve this issue as our current parking garage is not being used to capacity. We discussed how merchant-to-customer education is the “front line of defense” in changing the habits of people driving around in a circle looking for a place on Wall or Bond.
Safety in the parking garage was addressed. The DBBA explained that while we understood that people did not feel safe in the garage, that Bend Police Department data did not show that the garage was unsafe, therefore there was either a discrepancy in perception vs. reality or incidences were not being reported, allowing that data to be logged with Bend PD. The DBBA reminded everyone to call 911 or the non-emergency number (541-693-6911) to report anything that made them feel uncomfortable in the garage. The DBBA also informed Downtown merchants that there were many upcoming improvements planned for the parking garage, including opening the restrooms, moving Diamond Parking into a location next to the garage, adding better lighting, and painting murals.
Some merchants were curious and asked about where their staff could park. The DBBA gave a description of the parking permit program, more information can be found HERE.
Additionally, merchants requested DBBA advocacy for a new parking study to be completed. Merchants felt like, due to the accelerated growth in Bend, using data that was years old could impact the effectiveness of the actions currently being taken.
Finally, there were some merchants who were concerned with the concept of paid parking in general. There were a minority of stakeholders that felt that paid parking was bad for downtown and should be removed completely.
Parklets were the second most discussed topic. The DBBA educated merchants on how the pilot program was going to continue post-COVID. Most concerns revolved around how parklets were going to impact parking. Many merchants did not want to see the continuation of parklets in Downtown Bend. There was a robust discussion about the interconnectedness of all businesses in Downtown Bend and the need to support each type – including restaurants. The DBBA shared that parklets could also be utilized by other types of businesses if they desired. Merchants requested that the DBBA advocacy that parklets be required be in-use for a specific percentage of time during businesses hours so that those spaces were not “sitting empty”. The DBBA agreed to bring this suggestion back to the parklet committee.
The need for Downtown restrooms is top of mind for all Downtown merchants as summer. The DBBA updated merchants about what happened during covid in regards to trying to get more restrooms in Downtown Bend, and about the opening of restrooms in the parking garage. Merchants requested that DBBA advocate for more public restrooms in Downtown Bend, and that the DBBA also research port-a-potty options and prices as a temporary solution for this summer.
Many merchants attending the meeting wanted to know how they could get involved, and who they could contact with their concerns about the topics discussed. Here is all the contact information that you need to make your voice heard:
DBBA service request from HERE
DBBA member portal HERE
DBBA Phone: 541-788-3628
City of Bend Parking Demand Manager, Tobias Marx, firstname.lastname@example.org, 541-323-8582
Downtown Bend Parking Advisory Committee (DPAC) information HERE
Bend City Council, Mayor
Bend Business Advocate, Ben Hemson, email@example.com, 541-388-5529
Bend Police Department
Diamond Parking, Terrence, 541-317-2805
Information on Downtown Bend parking permits HERE
Future of Downtown Bend
Finally, we briefly discussed the future of Downtown Bend, creating a future visioning committee, working closer with community partners and what a future EID increase could fund. If you are interested in more on this discussion, please email us.