June 30, 2012

Letters to the editor: Congress Square Park an opportunity

The decision regarding the future of Congress Square Park will one day be regarded as a milestone in the history of Portland. The city should not squander this opportunity to demonstrate commitment to an enhanced civic environment.

click image to enlarge

Portland’s Eastland Park Hotel, with Congress Square Park in the foreground. The hotel wants to build a ballroom in the open space.

2011 file photo/Shawn Patrick Ouellette

click image to enlarge

The plaza sits atop the topographic ridgeline of the Portland peninsula, along its most prominent business and cultural thoroughfare, surrounded by many important educational and historic institutions: the Portland Museum of Art, the State Theatre, HopeGateWay United Methodist Church, the Eastland Hotel, the Maine College of Art and numerous other lovely three- to seven-story architectural pieces.

Many cities would beg for such critically significant property in such an important location and would regard it as an invaluable, irreplaceable public resource, potentially emblematic of its diverse urban community.

To achieve the plaza's urban-design potential, several redesign measures are imperative, including:

Raising the topographic elevation of its paving about 3 feet to that of Congress Street.

Reconstructing the western wall of and renovating 593 Congress St.

Redesigning and reconstructing the south wall of the Eastland Hotel.

Redesigning and rebuilding the plaza.

To achieve these objectives, the hotel would construct the proposed "ballroom" atop the existing south wing of the hotel (with a significant split-level landing at the plaza elevation).

The hotel also would build a two-story addition with commercial and/or cultural elements (extending 20 to 30 feet into public land across the south face of the hotel), together with a prominent hotel foyer at the plaza.

The property at 593 Congress St. would be renovated as a cafe-bakery or similar such use, with a 90-foot expanse of windows and doors facing the plaza. Terrace-dining and patio-cafe uses would be developed on the north and east sides of the plaza.

These programmatic, design and structural interventions will ensure the plaza is visually animated and physically activated with hotel guests, Portland residents, students and businesspeople, as well as tourists. Congress Square Plaza will become a signature urban space for the city of Portland and the state of Maine.

Charles A. Alden, RLA, AICP

retired urban designer


In hot weather, pay attention to pets, follow guidelines

We would like to remind anyone with a dog to remember that during hot weather, leaving a dog in a parked car can be deadly. For an animal left inside a parked car (even with the windows down) temperatures can climb rapidly and turn a car into an oven in the matter of minutes, not hours.

The best course of action is, of course, to leave Fido at home. But if that is not an option, please follow these guidelines for ensuring the animals safety:

Park in the shade

Leave the windows and sunroof open enough to allow ventilation, but not enough to allow the animal to escape or for someone to steal them.

Use a windshield shade to block the sun.

Leave water on the floor.

Leave the A/C on, but remember that if the engine dies, so may the dog.

Check on the animal's condition every 15 minutes.

Older and sick dogs may succumb faster than a healthy dog to the heat. If you suspect that your dog is overheated get them to a vet ASAP! Ice or cold packs can be applied to bring down body temperature in the meantime.

If you see a dog that may be in distress, say something! Time is critical here.

Let's make this a safe summer for our four-legged furry friends! Thank you.

Don Kimball

cruelty investigator, Peace and Justice for Animals

South Portland

Real campaign issues should focus on elderly programs

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