Broadway among streets up for name change

Almost two years after a group of Latino activists put forth the proposal to name a street in Portland in honor of the civil rights leader Cesar Chavez, the city has yet to reach a decision.

Almost two years after a group of Latino activists put forth the proposal to name a street in Portland in honor of the civil rights leader Cesar Chavez, the city has yet to reach a decision.

The debate continued this week at City Hall, where the Portland City Council will look at three possible streets to honor Chavez: Broadway, Grand and 39th avenues.

The Cesar E. Chavez Boulevard Committee has considered the three streets after the failure to secure Interstate Avenue. Of those, Broadway Avenue will be the biggest obstacle for the committee to get through.

Portland State, along with 900 other businesses, reside on the historic street. The University has not made an estimate on how much it would cost the school to accommodate the name change if it were to happen.

However, small businesses situated on Broadway have voiced their concerns.

The majority of companies oppose the change.

Murray Koodish, owner of Great Wine Buys on Broadway for 25 years, the oldest wine shop in Portland, said that renaming a street during this economic crisis would negatively affect businesses struggling to stay afloat.

“Downtown Broadway has a long and very storied history on the cultural and entertainment district and it was designed that way, the original name was Seventh Avenue,” Koodish said.

“Back in the early days, in the 1900s, the street was a major theater district, with major hotels, it was a declaration of the West Coast.”

Portland State has nine buildings situated on Southwest Broadway, including Smith Memorial Student Union, which serves as the face of the university.

The university first moved to Southwest Broadway in 1952 when the former Vanport College acquired the Lincoln High School Building.

In a recent survey by the committee, close to 95 percent of the property owners opposed changing Broadway, the highest percentage of opposition. 83 percent of surveyed owners on Grand Avenue, and 87 percent on 39th Avenue, opposed the change as well.

Daniella Garza, educational representative for M.E.Ch.A. explained what the change would represent for her community.

“I think Latinos in PDX just feel disconnected to Portland in general and it would be a great thing for Latinos to be represented, to feel they are a part of Portland, part of the community,” she said.

Jon Turino, executive director for the Alliance of Portland Neighborhood Business Associations (APNBA) an organization that represents the interests of small businesses in the city, said that it would cost a few thousand dollars for each business to accommodate the change.

“We are talking well over 1.5 million dollars in expenses for these businesses,” Turino said.

Moreover, Turino explained that many businesses have built a reputation with the name Broadway, and they would be hurt by the name change.

“A lot of that goodwill from the name would be gone. If you’re Broadway Toyota, now you’re Cesar Chavez Toyota, if you’re Broadway Books, now it’s Cesar Chavez Books. It just wouldn’t work,” Turino said.

Joe Cooney, whose family owns Abe’s Broadway Cleaners in the Northeast section of the street, expressed similar sentiments.

“I don’t think Broadway should be changed because it’s a staple of the city, just right here on this block there are three businesses with Broadway in the name,” Cooney said.

Since his family business opened in 1995, Cooney said he has seen Broadway Avenue transform into a diverse community that fosters minority-owned businesses.

“We are getting more minority-owned businesses, there’s an Ethiopian restaurant down the street, there’s a couple of Japanese and Korean businesses,” Cooney said. “I think that people are flocking to this place because people are willing to give diversity a try, we have a lot of same-sex couples coming into our business,” he said.

The APNBA, in a recent testimony to the City Planning Commissioners, articulated that aside from the financial impact, the historic impact of changing Broadway Avenue should also be considered.

“In any city over 100 years old, every street has a history, to rename their streets is to destroy their connection to their history, their neighborhood and even their very character,” Turino said.

Letisia Ayala, co-coordinator for the Portland State M.E.Ch.A. chapter, a national Latino student group, said that the organization supports the name change to honor Chavez.

“Hispanics see him as a leader for our community, he was one of the first one to speak up about the injustice that Latinos faced,” Ayala said.

Opponents of changing the street name, however, said that they are not opposed to honoring Chavez, just not in a way that would disrupt the historical and economic aspect of the businesses already established in Portland.

“We have no problem in doing something to honor Cesar Chavez, he clearly deserves it. We suggested putting up a statue or renaming a park, or something new as oppose to putting people in the retrofit process,” Turino said.

Business owners, M.E.Ch.A. representatives and spokespeople from the City of Portland expressed that a change to 39th Avenue may be the best possible compromise between the three streets in question.