July 12, 2013

Residents question Portland mayor on sale of city park

Mayor Michael Brennan’s first Meet the Mayor session draws about 25 residents to City Hall to discuss their concerns.

By Dennis Hoey dhoey@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

PORTLAND — Portland Mayor Michael Brennan fielded questions Thursday night on topics ranging from finding ways to reduce motorcycle noise and provide affordable rental housing to preventing a city park from being developed.

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Joan Grant, a member of the Friends of Congress Square Park, asks about the proposed development of Congress Square Plaza at City Hall on Thursday.

Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer

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Mayor Michael Brennan contemplates an answer to a question from a resident Thursday.

Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer

Additional Photos Below

By the time the first-ever Meet the Mayor session ended, people in the audience of about 25 residents were asking Brennan to schedule another.

Occupy Maine had encouraged members to attend and express their displeasure over the potential sale of Congress Square Plaza to a private hotel developer, and a handful of people raised the issue.

Joan Grant, who lives in the Parkside neighborhood, said she opposed selling the park at the corner of Congress and High streets to the firm renovating the former Eastland Hotel.

Rockbridge Capital wants the city to sell a large section of the park so it can build an events center there.

“If they put a building over two-thirds of that park, then that is the end of the park,” Grant said.
Grant said several neighborhood associations oppose the sale, which is currently being negotiated. Grant suggested putting the sale out to bid.

But Brennan said Rockbridge “presents a more natural partnership” with the city than another entity would. He said that an events center located in the heart of the city’s arts district would be “a huge plus for the city.”

Tom Macmillan, who lives in the West End, said high rents are pushing people out of the city. He said residents are spending more than 50 percent of their income on rent. Brennan said he hopes new housing projects that the city has approved recently will help make affordable housing available.

“We are focused on creating as many housing opportunities as we can at all of the income spectrums. We know that economic prosperity is tied to making it possible to live and work in the city,” the mayor said.

In 2011, Brennan became Portland’s first popularly elected full-time mayor since 1923. He said he is generally available to constituents throughout the work week but felt it was important to meet residents in a public setting where they could ask questions and raise concerns.

David Dearborn, who lives in Portland’s Libbytown neighborhood, sat quietly in the rear of the room.

As the meeting ended, Dearborn said he’d like Brennan to host another Meet the Mayor. “I am impressed with the number of people here, although I’d like to see a lot more,” Dearborn told the mayor.

Dearborn said he was struck by how “open” the mayor was in his responses and the “respectful” nature of the discussion.

“No one rolled their eyes,” he said.

Brennan said he would consider hosting another forum before the end of the year.

“I didn’t have any expectations today,” Brennan told the audience. “I really wanted to see how this went before I did this again.”

Staff Writer Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at dhoey@pressherald.com

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Additional Photos

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Portland Mayor Michael Brennan, far left, holds a "Meet the Mayor" session at City Hall Thursday evening for residents to bring up issues that concern them.

Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer


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