The first day of spring term marked the return of the “Healthy Asian Grill” booth to the South Park Blocks at Portland State University. After having maintained a spot at Harrison and Park for 14 years Nga Jones, owner of “Healthy Asian Grill” lost her rights to a lease after being out-bid by Maggie from Basha’s Middle Eastern.
There are four vendor sites on the Park Blocks near PSU, each secured by a silent bidding process held before the previous leases expire, in which the highest bid gains possession of the spot for a five-year contract.
In spring of 2001 Basha’s bid on the four locations with the intent to operate all four food concessions on the South Park Blocks with different types of food made from her own recipes. Over 1,500 students and faculty signed a petition, which expressed their displeasure with Basha’s and Portland’s Parks and Recreation due to their concern over the possible formation of a monopoly.
The petition was formed by graphic design student Christopher Gifford and was later given to the Parks and Recreation Department Basha’s eventually gave up the two back spots which are zoned for push carts, and held her lease for the two east spots which allow the carts to stay over night.
Maggie of Basha’s Middle Eastern maintained her original business while the northeast location remained vacant during preparations to build a new cart. Near the end of 2001 Maggie decided that she could not financially support two separate carts and relinquished her lease to the second spot.
“Maggie took a financial risk and in this case she ended up deciding that she should back off,” said Shawn Roger, manager of reservations for Portland Parks and Recreation. She took a loss of at least $6,500, which was half the annual rent for the northeast spot, needed to secure her contract.
After Maggie gave up the second spot it was offered to the second highest bidder who never responded to phone, mail and e-mail messages from the Portland Parks and Recreation Department to claim the spot. Finally, in January of 2002 Nga Jones was notified that the spot would be available to her at the price she bid on it, if still interested.
Jones had already sold her original trailer and since opened a restaurant in Sherwood called Santa Fe. Her son, Gary Jones, who had worked with her during some of the 14 years she occupied a space in the south Park blocks, offered to sublet the business from his mother.
Gary Jones is proud of carrying on the tradition his mother and aunt started and said he is planning on bidding for the spot again in 2004 when the bidding process will start over again.
The four positions near PSU are the only locations within the city of Portland Parks and Recreation’s jurisdiction that are bid upon, due to desirability of location. “Rather than having us dictate how much we think it’s worth, we see how much the market says it’s worth,” Rogers said.
Even after the collection of over 1,500 student and faculty signatures agreeing, “We oppose awarding locations solely on a highest bidder basis,” there are still no regulations that limit the formation of monopolies within the Portland Parks and Recreation’s system to protect those opposed to them in the coming bidding process.