August 12, 2013

Congress Square activists claim momentum as talks continue

By Randy Billings rbillings@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

PORTLAND — Nearly two weeks after the city began soliciting input about the future of Congress Square, residents fighting to save the small urban plaza there are claiming a victory.

click image to enlarge

Congress Square Plaza currently is used as a public space.

Gordon Chibroski/Staff Photographer

The city is considering selling a portion of Congress Square Plaza to Rockbridge, a development company that is renovating the former Eastland Hotel into the Westin Portland Harborview Hotel. The Ohio-based developer would like to build an event center in the plaza -- a plan supported by some city businesses.

However, many neighbors and citizens oppose the sale and formed the Friends of Congress Square Park. They collected more than 1,200 signatures opposing the plan and have packed public hearings about the potential sale.

On Aug. 1, the city announced a new "vision process" for Congress Square, which it says includes the plaza next to the former Eastland Hotel as well as the High, Congress and Free street intersection as a whole.

Residents may participate in the vision process until Sept. 5 by filling out a questionnaire at portlandmaine.gov/planning; proposing or voting for an idea at neighborland.com/congresssq; or Tweeting ideas using the #congresssquare hash tag on Twitter.

The city is expected to hold public meetings on the future of the plaza in August and September.

On Monday, the Friends of Congress Square Park and another organization, Congress Square Summer, issued a press release saying the city request for feedback shows that their efforts to oppose development are paying off.

"The city responded to citizen input and they've gone back to the drawing board because of the public demand to keep all of our parks in Portland public," Friends co-founder John Eder said in a written statement. "This process is ongoing; it's not a done deal."

City officials have made no announcement on the plaza's future. City staff has been negotiating with Rockbridge on a potential sale since May and the City Council's Housing and Community Development Committee will meet in executive session on Wednesday to receive an update.

The Friends of Congress Square Park and Congress Square Summer will host their own design discussion and free potluck on Aug. 31 at the Meg Perry Center on Congress Street.

Randy Billings can be contacted at 791-6346 or at:
rbillings@mainetoday.com

 

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