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PORTLAND-The city council has directed its redevelopment agency to spend $300,000 studying successful retail themes around the country en route to a new retail strategy, the execution of which it hopes will cement Downtown’s position as center of the shopper’s universe.

“It’s not bad, but it has weaknesses,” says Don Mazziotti, executive director of the Portland Development Commission, the city’s urban renewal agency. “There’s been a lot of discussion that the Downtown retail market is operating at less than its capacity and, therefore, its potential; it’s still the hub of retail activity, but. . . we need to keep it that way.”

A request for proposals will be issued next week and a selection will be made in mid-September. Mazziotti says he’s looking for firms with experience in market analysis, merchandising, location analysis and retail theme identification, and who have direct relationships with major retailers around the nation and a strong sensitivity to the needs of the smaller, local independent retailer.

“We expect firms to form teams to compete for the project,” says Mazziotti. “It’s unlikely a single firm or individual will be able to address all the needs we’ve identified.”

There has been much discussion recently about the impact of expanding Downtown park blocks through the middle of the retail district. Former Portland mayor and Oregon governor Neil Goldschmidt and Fox Tower developer Tom Moyer have been working hard on the goal. Others say it could actually harm Downtown’s retail vitality.

“Those discussions are merely further evidence that we need to take a look at the overall retail mix,” says Mazziotti. “It hasn’t been looked at for some time, and it’s just fortuitous that we have a lot of competing projects focused on Downtown right now.”

Indeed, in addition to the park block’s debate, four different developers are seeking tenants for major office projects Downtown, while Gerding Edlen Development is in the throes of a 1.8-million-sf redevelopment of the former Blitz Weinhard Brewery on the northwest edge of Downtown. Meantime, because of its existing vitality, hundreds of apartments and condos have been and are being developed just north of Downtown and major retailers like Nordstrom and Meier & Frank are considering changes to better take advantage of Downtown’s continued attractiveness.

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