City gets ready for downtown proposals

Some retailers worry about interruption in marketing efforts

The city of Portland is fast-tracking its effort to find bidders to market and promote downtown. This spring, it pulled marketing out of the operating contract for the city's six parking garages.

The action comes after a chorus of complaints from downtown retailers that this interruption in the marketing effort would cost them business.

The call for a marketing consultant was posted on the city's Web site July 1. Proposals are due July 22, and the city intends to award the $400,000 contract in early August.

The posting on the city's Web site says marketing efforts need to include information on 'clean, safe and affordable parking available at city-owned garages and about the Parking Validation Program.' It calls for a broad marketing approach with measurable results to justify the dollars expended.

A new city marketing manager Ñ a post that could be established at the Portland Development Commission Ñ will provide oversight for the marketing plan.

Firms interested in bidding must send a representative to a mandatory pre-proposal meeting scheduled for this morning in the Portland Building.

About 100 registered vendors had downloaded the request for proposal from the Web site as of Wednesday. But Willette Rasmussen, senior procurement specialist in the city's Bureau of General Services, said that wasn't a real indicator of how many firms might be represented at the pre-proposal meeting.

The city's move to find a marketer for downtown is a relief to retailers, said Ashley Heichelbech, retail manager for the Portland Business Alliance. 'I know that the retail community, including restaurants and hotels, was very concerned that nothing was happening for a while.'

Equally important, she said, is that 'all of the work that has been done in the past years, creating exposure and momentum for downtown, isn't lost.'

JohnsonSheen Advertising, which in 1993 created the name SmartPark and developed the logo and promotional campaign for the city's SmartPark garages, will submit a proposal, said Pat Johnson, the firm's president.

The agency also worked with the Portland Business Alliance to develop the three-year 'I'd rather be downtown. Portland' campaign, which made its debut in 2001.

That successful campaign cost about $1.2 million a year, with half of the funding coming from the parking garage contract and half from the business alliance.

When the city separated marketing monies from the garage management contract, the alliance Ñ which managed the garage at the time Ñ laid off Chris Finks, its vice president for marketing, who led the downtown promotion.

Finks now works for Cohn Marketing Group, a national destination marketing and branding company. He said his new firm won't enter the bidding.

Still, Finks said it will be important for the city to carefully consider who gets the contract Ñ and for the new marketer to work with the business alliance so that established retail promotions that were part of the original campaign keep going.

'It doesn't make a lot of sense to go out and re-create the wheel,' he said. 'I think everybody needs to work together on this.'

Mary Volm, the city's communications director, said $100,000 for the marketing effort will come from the city's parking fund, but the source of the other $300,000 has yet to be identified.

'But the mayor has told us to find it and make it happen,' she said. 'We're running out of time in terms of getting somebody on board who will be able to have something done for the Christmas season.'

Volm said the promotion will tie in with efforts already established by the Portland Oregon Visitors Association.

City Commissioner Dan Saltzman said he was surprised that the marketing proposal request had been posted Ñ and disappointed to hear that only $400,000 was designated to pay for marketing. 'Some of us feel we would like to have more money in that.

'I would have thought they would have touched bases with us, given the keen interest and sensitivity among many of the council,' Saltzman said.

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