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May 10, 2012

Hotel’s plan to develop plaza stirs controversy

By Tom Bell tbell@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

click image to enlarge

An architectural rendering of the proposed Eastland Hotel ballroom shows how the expansion would take up most of the area of Congress Square Plaza.

PFVS Architecture rendering

Supporters and opponents of the plan expressed strong opinions.

Jim Devine of Homeless Voices for Justice said the project would benefit only wealthy people and "push the people we represent right out of the way."

Alice Spencer, who lives in the neighborhood, urged the committee to reject the proposal. "I feel you should not give up on a public space just because it's a bad public space," she said. "It should be improved."

Eric Bryant, a Portland resident, said the proposal amounts to a "privatization of the public sphere."

But Barbara Whitten, president of the Greater Portland Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the proposal is an "amazing" opportunity because it would draw many more visitors to the city.

The expanded Eastland would make the arts district a "showplace" for conventions and keep the downtown thriving, said Doug Fuss, who owns Bull Feeney's in the Old Port and is president of the board of directors of Portland's Downtown District.

"We need to do as much as possible to help them be successful so the hotel can be returned to its former glory," he said.

Jan Beitzer, executive director of Portland's Downtown District, said it's possible to let the Eastland occupy Congress Square Plaza and establish a public park elsewhere, perhaps replacing a parking lot a half a block away.

She said that preserving public space is critical. "It doesn't have to be (at Congress Square Plaza)," she said, "but it has to be accounted for."

City Councilor Nicholas Mavodones Jr., who chairs the committee, said after the meeting that the next step might be for developers to meet with residents and other stakeholders to work out a plan that benefits both sides. Establishing a park at a nearby site is a possibility if there is space available, he said.

He said he would not support selling the park to the hotel just for the sake of economic development.

"There may be an opportunity to create some better public space that location, he said. "Whatever proposal comes forward, it has to have some public good to it." 

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

tbell@pressherald.com

Twitter: TomBellPortland

 

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