April 24, 2013

Hotel promises 'balance' in proposed Portland park design

Developers want to buy a portion of Congress Square Plaza from the city and turn it into an 'event center.'

By Tom Bell tbell@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

PORTLAND – On any given day, 200 to 250 people are at work on the massive, $40 million renovation of the former Eastland Park Hotel.

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This view of Portland from the top floor of the Westin Harborview Hotel expands the original Top of the East view with more space and more views to the West. Taken on Tuesday, April 23, 2013, during a tour of the hotel formerly known as the Eastland.

Gordon Chibroski / Staff Photographer

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This is an artist rendering of the Westin Portland Harborview Hotel, which is keeping the Eastland sign for historic reasons demanded by the Portland City Council.

Gordon Chibroski

Additional Photos Below

On Wednesday at the other end of Congress Street, the hotel's developers will be at City Hall on a different kind of project – trying to persuade a City Council committee to support its revamped plans for an "event center" on the plaza adjacent to the hotel.

The developers want to buy a portion of the plaza from the city.

Their proposal last year to build a ballroom on Congress Square Plaza, however, was loudly criticized for being uninspiring, and many residents opposed it because the ballroom would have taken up most of the plaza.

Although the hotel's general manager, Bruce Wennerstrom, declined to describe the new proposal in an interview Tuesday, he said it will provide a "balanced" approach between the needs of the neighborhoods, the city, the local business community and the hotel, which owns a 31-foot-wide easement on the plaza.

"We have been working hard on this," Wennerstrom said during a tour of the hotel. "We're trying to find that sweet spot that makes it work for everybody."

Developers will present the new plan Wednesday to the City Council's Housing and Community Development Committee. The meeting, which will be held at the City Council chambers, begins at 5:30 p.m. It's the only item on the agenda.

The committee's chairman, City Councilor Nicholas Mavodones Jr., said the public will not be allowed to comment on the proposal.

A special advisory panel working on redesigning the plaza will review the new plan on May 22 and vote on a recommendation to the Housing and Community Development Committee, which is expected to hold a public hearing and vote on the proposal May 29, he said.

Mavodones said he hopes the proposal strikes a balance between maintaining public use and fostering economic development in the area.

"I am open and very curious to see what they are recommending," he said.

Downtown business owners support redeveloping the park because they say it is poorly designed, blighted and has become a gathering place for homeless people. Neighborhood residents say the city should rebuild the park with a new design.

Frank Turek, a Grant Street resident who is leading the effort to save the park, said he's looking forward to seeing the developers' proposal, but his expectations are low. "I'm not holding my breath that it's anything amazing," he said.

Even without the Congress Square Plaza issued resolved, work on the hotel is moving forward.

Rockbridge Capital and Newcastle Hotels & Resorts, which bought the Eastland Plaza Hotel for $6.9 million in 2011, is completely renovating its existing ballroom, which has capacity for 300 people.

It is converting two meeting rooms on High Street into a restaurant. The old restaurant, which was located near the lobby, is being converted into a small ballroom with a capacity of 100 people.

Construction began early last fall and is expected to be completed by the end of the year. The renovated hotel will have 289 rooms -- 85 more rooms than before -- and its rooftop lounge, the Top of the East, will be doubled in size and include a kitchen for the first time.

Although the hotel's illuminated EASTLAND sign will be refurbished and remounted, the hotel will have a new name, the Westin Portland Harborview Hotel.

The Top of the East on the 15th floor, however, will keep its old name, Wennerstrom said .

Although the hotel was built in 1927, the new interior will feature the clean and sophisticated lines of a style known as Midcentury Modern, which was prevalent in the 1950s and 1960s and has recently become popular again because of the television show "Mad Men."

Although there are three other planned hotel projects in the city that would add about 400 rooms, the Portland Harborview Hotel is positioned to do well because it will be a full-service hotel, meaning that it will offer space for banquets, conventions and weddings, Wennerstrom said.

Tom Bell can be contacted at 791-6369 or at

tbell@pressherald.com

Twitter: TomBellPortland 

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Additional Photos

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John Lydon, electrician for Favreau Electric, roughs in light fixtures in the ceiling of the ballroom. Taken on Tuesday, April 23, 2013, during a tour of the hotel formerly known as the Eastland.

Gordon Chibroski / Staff Photographer

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Here, project managers discuss what will become of the old coal fired heating system installed in the original Eastland Hotel. They are too large to be removed and may become a tourist attraction, they joked. A newer, "state of the art" HVAC system will be installed nearby.

Gordon Chibroski / Staff Photographer

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This is a model room – off-site at the General Manager's office complex several blocks away – showing what rooms will be like at Westin Harborview, formerly known as the Eastland Hotel.

Gordon Chibroski / Staff Photographer

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This is the artist rendering of the completed "Top of the East" expansion, doubling the size and the views of the surrounding Greater Portland areas. The Eastland sign will remain, demanded by the Portland City Council, but the hotel will be called the Westin Portland Harborview Hotel.

Gordon Chibroski / Staff Photographer

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On Tuesday, April 23, 2013, pigeons congregate at Congress Square Plaza.



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