Saturday, May 18, 2013
PORTLAND - The remaining low-income residents of rental units at the Eastland Park Hotel have 90 days to move out and make way for a major hotel renovation that could include a new ballroom in Congress Square Plaza.
Eviction notices were sent to residents Monday. Earlier this month, about 12 tenants were still living in the hotel, said city spokeswoman Nicole Clegg.
The notices came as no surprise since the hotel's owner, Ohio-based RockBridge Capital, has been clear about its plan to convert about 50 low-income apartments into hotel guest rooms under the Westin Hotels name.
The 90-day notice is 60 days longer than the residents' leases require, said Adam Valente, senior vice president of RockBridge Capital, who noted that the investment group is making a significant donation to the city's housing fund.
The evictions will set in motion an overhaul of the 85-year-old hotel that Valente said will turn a "left-for-dead property" at a heavily traveled intersection into "a great showpiece for Portland," including a four-star hotel.
Valente said the renovations will include a new restaurant facing High Street, an expanded Top of the East bar and enhanced fitness, spa and meeting rooms. The group is still seeking a deal to allow it to build a ballroom on Congress Square Plaza, which is now open space next to the hotel.
After the renovation, the hotel will have 289 guest rooms -- 58 more than it has now, he said.
The plan to convert apartments to guest rooms was controversial last year. The city has an ordinance requiring developers to pay $58,000 for every unit of housing they convert to another use.
But the ordinance contained a loophole that allowed RockBridge, which bought the hotel for $6.9 million, to avoid paying $2.5 million in fees to the city's housing fund. That loophole has since been tightened.
As a concession to the city, RockBridge agreed to pay as much as $2,500 to each lease holder to help cover relocation costs. It also will donate the hotel's old furniture to Catholic Charities Maine, Clegg said earlier this month.
That may be cold comfort to residents, who may not get their payments in time to help secure new homes. Residents can pick up their $2,500 five days after they move out.
"Provided that you fully comply with this notice, you can pick up your $2,500 check at the front desk of the hotel five days thereafter," the letter says.
Any residents who need assistance finding new apartments can seek help from the city's General Assistance office, said Doug Gardner, the city's director of health and human services. The goal is to link displaced residents with housing counselors so the residents don't end up in the city's crowded shelters.
"These folks have been in stable housing. Hopefully, they can make that transition to stable housing again without assistance," Gardner said. "We just want to make sure we're there and involved so folks don't fall through the cracks and end up in our shelters."
The hotel's owner, meanwhile, is vowing to work with residents.
"We have staff available at the property to help," Valente said. "Where their are needs different from the (notice) provision ... we're willing to hear it, listen and do the best we can accommodate. We recognize everyone's situation is different."
Valente said RockBridge "in the near term" will donate $42,500 to the city's housing fund, which is used to fund affordable housing projects in the city.
The hotel will close for the roughly yearlong renovation, which is projected to cost more than $35 million. Valente said the company is closing on the financing for the project, including needed historic tax credits.
Once that happens -- likely within 30 days, Valente said -- the hotel will close and the real renovation work will begin.
Staff Writer Randy Billings can be contacted at 791-6346 or at: