Necessity is the mother of invention, and the Downtown Bend Business Association is helping Bend small businesses chart a new way forward during the Coronavirus pandemic.

Central Oregon faces a dilemma over the Coronavirus pandemic. Reopening our businesses seems to many the most direct way to protect commercial interests and maintain the levels of employment that keep the economy turning. However, because many basic economic interactions take place indoors, reopening businesses poses an inherent risk for further transmission. The question for many business owners, then, is how to walk that line in the safest way possible.

The Bend City Council resolved on May 20 to allow the expansion of business tables and displays onto the public right of way, including sidewalks, as well as to allow the use of private parking lots for additional seating. This resolution also included an avenue for businesses to work together to request temporary street closures for seating and retail activities. These resolutions went into effect on June 3.

What might seem like a relatively simple task is in fact a complex, multi-level affair, says Mindy Aisling, executive director of the Downtown Bend Business Association (DBBA). A nonprofit that serves the 325 businesses and 85 property owners in the Bend Downtown district, the DBBA does not encourage or discourage this initiative one way or the other. However, they seek to facilitate the numerous conversations that must be had among various stakeholders before any changes can be made to the way we use our streets and sidewalks.

On a high level, these conversations are about balancing the needs of the people who live, work, dine, and shop downtown, as well as the needs of building owners. A restaurant that may desperately want to procure more outdoor seating space may run into difficulties when negotiating with a neighboring business that depends on vehicular access for curbside pickups. Under normal circumstances, there are clear expectations around the use of public space. But now, with so many small business owners already struggling to stay open by patching together new policies and adaptations, resistance to further change is understandable.

This is not an insurmountable task: businesses along Tin Pan Alley and on Minnesota Avenue have reached agreements already, and in McMinnville the Downtown Association has implemented a similar plan already. In Downtown Bend, the process benefits from other community facilitators working closely with business and building owners to reach agreements. Ms. Aisling wishes to highlight Ben Hempson with the City, as well as Anthony Broadman representing 900 Wall for their work around these issues.

While consensus and agreement are the ideal methods, under the current City initiative there are structures in place to move forward if consensus can’t be reached. In those cases, every building owner along a street or alley in question casts a vote weighted by their building’s square footage touching the space in question. There is disagreement and conflict in this space, but also the opportunity for downtown Bend to step outside business as usual and adapt to the needs of a new economic environment. In so doing the community can set the stage for what cooperation looks like in the future.

Interested parties may submit a proposal for business use of the public right of way. City staff will be available to meet with business owners to review proposals and clarify requirements prior to submission.