August 14, 2013

Portland developer, activists still at it

Despite opposition claims that the sale is off, developers for the Congress Square Plaza renovation project say negotiations are going well.

By Randy Billings rbillings@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

click image to enlarge

Developers of a $50 million hotel renovation project in Congress Square Plaza in Portland are pushing back against activists' claims that they have changed the direction of the debate about whether the city should sell the property.

John Patriquin / Staff File Photo

"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 of Congress Square Park co-founder John Eder said in a written statement.

A task force, appointed by the council in 2008, recommended the city hire a landscape architect to redesign the plaza, which many consider to have a flawed design, its dark corners promoting illicit activity.

The city allocated $50,000 to hire the consultant, but that process was put on hold in 2011 when Rockbridge purchased the Eastland. A previous proposal to develop the whole park was rejected by the city, leading to the recent proposal and sales negotiations.

Concerns about Congress Square arose in the 1970s, when the nearly half-acre plot at the corner of High and Congress streets was the site of a Dunkin' Donuts that was popular with prostitutes and vagrants.

The city seized the property through eminent domain and built Congress Square Plaza with a $7 million federal grant in the early 1980s. In the 1990s, the plaza was well-tended and hosted movies and other events.

It has since fallen into disrepair and is largely considered a failed public space because of neglect.

Rockbridge has pledged another $50,000 toward the redesign of the plaza. Wennerstrom said the hotel will participate in future planning efforts for the plaza.

Levine said the city is collecting feedback about Congress Square -- especially from people who don't usually attend city meetings -- through new avenues, including Twitter, Neighborland.com, online surveys and poster boards at City Hall and Congress Square.

The city will also host a public forum in September, he said.

"We're excited about trying new things to get people involved," he said. "So far, based on the amount of responses we're getting, it looks like it's working."

 

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

rbillings@mainetoday.com

Twitter: @randybillings

 

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