PORTLAND – The group that hopes to build a contemporary, 400-seat performance hall in one of the city’s oldest neighborhoods will introduce its newest design Wednesday.

The latest version of the project proposed at 76 Congress St. will be presented as a handful of residents lobby against it because of its size and design, its financial feasibility and the amount of parking in the neighborhood.

The Friends of St. Lawrence will present the revised design at 4 p.m. to the city’s Historic Preservation Board, which is responsible for ensuring that the building blends in with the surrounding neighborhood and the adjacent parish hall that makes the site a historic landmark.

The parish hall is all that remains of a 19th-century, Gothic-style church whose granite bell tower once inspired worshippers and artists alike. The sanctuary fell into disrepair over time and was torn down in 2008 – two years after the roof collapsed.

The remaining parish hall, which seats 110 people, is used for small musical events and theater.

The Historic Preservation Board has expressed concerns about the proposed hall’s relationship with the parish hall, as well as its size and boxy, metallic design.

The new design uses architectural treatments to make the 52-foot-tall building look less imposing, said architect David Lloyd.

The building would still be enclosed in a perforated metal skin that could be backlit at night. But the new design includes a lobby porch, or loggia, made of granite that is similar to the granite in the parish hall. The porch has been designed to line up with nearby roof lines, Lloyd said.

“(The porch) is now a powerful element which offers strong connection to the existing building,” Lloyd said in a memo to the board.

A glass-walled promenade room for special events on the top of the building also has been redesigned, Lloyd said. Some of the glass has been replaced with perforated metal skin, and a trellis and a roof with plants have been added.

The board is not expected to vote on the proposal Wednesday, but Deirdre Nice, executive director of the nonprofit friends group, said she hopes to get enough feedback to know whether to begin the Planning Board process.

Nice said she believes the design has benefited from public feedback.

The city’s historic preservation manager, Deb Andrews, said in a memo to the board that the massing and detail have “improved greatly.”

However, the transition of the proposed performance hall to the parish hall “appears to be unresolved,” Andrews wrote.

“Also, staff questions the reliance on plant material to address scale issues, particularly in this climate,” she wrote.

A group of six to eight Munjoy Hill residents, calling themselves the Concerned Citizens of Munjoy Hill, have organized against the proposal, arguing that a 400-seat performance hall is too large for Munjoy Hill.

Ralph Carmona, one of the residents, equated the contemporary design to a controversial piece of art that was installed on Fore Street and later removed after complaints from businesses and residents.

“I think it’s a ‘Tracing the Fore’ on the highest level,” said Carmona, who said he would support a hall half the size of the one proposed.

The group also questions whether there would be enough parking for events and whether the project is financially viable, but the Historic Preservation Board has input only over the design.

Parking issues are the purview of the Planning Board and City Council, both of which will have to act on the new proposal.

The Munjoy Hill Neighborhood Organization has been collecting feedback about the proposal through its newsletter.

Of 32 responses received through May 20, 24 people said they supported the expansion but wanted to see the neighborhood’s concerns addressed. Sixteen people said they were very concerned about the plan, while nine people said they were mildly concerned.

Most cited “design/appearance/size” as the biggest concern, with “traffic/parking” a close second. A dozen people worried the hall would not be economically viable.

The neighborhood organization is only facilitating a public dialogue about the project and has not taken a position on the proposal.

However, the board’s vice president, Ross Fields, is an active member of the concerned citizens group and is critical of the plan.

“It’s just a block with this metal skin that doesn’t really match anything in the neighborhood,” said Fields, who was not speaking for the board.

But organization President Andrea Myhaver said she finds more to like about the new proposal, which she said has come a long way since the first draft in December.

“Personally, I found it to be much more aesthetically appealing,” she said. “I like the greenery, the shape and general size.”

 

Randy Billings can be contacted at 791-6346 or at:

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Twitter: @randybillings