Downtown Portland task force co-chair balks at making workers come back to office, even as mayor calls it a priority –

The mayor wants millions of dollars in new state funding to address homelessness, graffiti and trash pickup, 100 Oregon State Police officers to tamp down crime downtown and money to turbocharge efforts to transform office buildings into apartments.

Luring office workers back to Portland’s core may be as important to downtown’s future as any of those other ideas, though, and it may prove beyond the city and state’s power to deliver.

Some employers are eyeing the real estate savings that come with a smaller office footprint. Many employees love the flexibility of remote or hybrid work. And with Oregon’s jobless rate at an all-time low – 3.4% – workers know they have other options if their bosses try to force their hand.

That’s one of the biggest reasons why Portland’s downtown, and central cities across the country, still don’t look like they did in 2019. The office vacancy rate in Portland’s central business district rose to 27% in the second quarter of this year, up from under 14% in the final quarter before the pandemic, according to data from real estate firm CBRE.

I’m at the point where I don’t even want to visit Portland, let alone work there. That could change if the Mayor and Company get their act together. Hasn’t happened in years, so I don’t expect it now, but I never want to give up on the notion that people can change. It remains somewhat unbelievable to me what they’ve let the city devolve into, but I guess I have some admiration for their attempt, however belated and feeble, to put the genie back in the bottle.