September 21, 2013

Another View: Eastland should not benefit from Congress Square's decline

There are homeless people in the park in part because the hotel eliminated low-income housing.

By KATIE BURNS

Re: "Maine Voices: Congress Square sale could inspire needed change in heart of the city" (Sept. 7):

Michael Bourque is not totally wrong, but the issue is far from as simple as he thinks.

The Eastland did itself and the city no favors when its parent company figured out how to get around the law and kick out low-income residents at the hotel without paying the required $50,000 for each lost housing unit. In total, it managed to get out of paying the city $2.5 million in required fees.

Homelessness and panhandling are on the rise in Portland. The Eastland's fee-dodging has played a role in that increase.

The Eastland, therefore, has also played a part in creating the current character of Congress Square and, in contributing to homelessness and panhandling, it has hurt Portland's reputation as a vacation destination.

If the Eastland applies its legal team to finding tax loopholes, the residents of Portland will be stuck paying for the damage that the Eastland has already done.

If Mr. Bourque thinks otherwise, he should provide the Portland Press Herald with a detailed financial solution rather than an op-ed.

And let's not quibble about whether it's a park or a plaza. Washington Square Park in New York City has little green space, but no one worries about whether it's a plaza. Are plazas inherently more deserving of destruction than parks? Mr. Bourque is grasping at straws.

For that matter, Deering Oaks is also by and large a space for homeless and poor people. We might as well fill Deering Oaks with hotels and businesses too. Since the people there don't sleep or live in actual rooms, no one would be responsible for relocating them. Is that not also a sound business decision that would increase the tax base?

Katie Burns is a resident of Portland.

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