May 12, 2012

Can this park still be saved?

Portland's Eastland Park Hotel proposes buying Congress Square Plaza, a poorly designed space that is a magnet for illicit behavior.

By Tom Bell
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

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Visitors to Portland’s Congress Square Plaza share their thoughts on a proposal by the Eastland Park Hotel to expand and use the city park space for a ballroom. Lawrence Allen of Standish brought his wife, Cara Leavitt, and 3-year-old daughter, Alanah, to Portland, where they enjoyed pizza in Congress Square on Friday.

Photos by John Ewing/Staff Photographer

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Landscape architect Anthony Muench, left, and his friend Charles Alden, a retired urban planner, visited the park recently and said the public space has value to the city and could be improved by altering its design.

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As he eats lunch, Allen says the city should sell the park to the hotel.

"I'm all for taking this over," he says. "No one uses it, other than it being a homeless hangout. It doesn't portray a good image for the city."

His wife, Cara Leavitt, disagrees. "It's nice to see the open space this close to where it's so busy," she says.

As critical of the park as they are, Muench and Alden agree with Leavitt. For all its flaws, Congress Square Plaza can be saved with good design, they say.

Most important, the sunken floor must be raised to the level of Congress Street. Muench notes that Boston's Copley Plaza once had a sunken park, which got used for drug dealing. The city raised the park and got rid of the crime.

Also, they say, the facades at the two rear corners must brought to life, perhaps with a cafe.

A well-designed park can be a catalyst for economic development, Alden says. Because public space is so difficult to acquire, Portland should do everything it can to preserve it, he says.

"This is such a valuable place," he says. "It would be unfortunate to squander a resource that is part of the community."

Staff Writer Tom Bell can be contacted at 791-6369 or at:

Twitter: TomBellPortland


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Additional Photos

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Seventy-year-old Janice Cole, who lives next to Congress Square Plaza, says she doesn’t like to come to the Portland park because it can be a magnet for homeless people and sometimes it doesn’t feel safe. “It’s really quite sad,” she said.

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Joseph Morris, 53, a homeless man who spends a lot of time at Congress Square Plaza, said he doesn’t want to see it change. “They should keep it exactly the way it is,” he said.


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