August 26, 2013

Letters to the editor: Selling part of city park is short-sighted

In two weeks, the Portland City Council will be voting on whether or not to sell a public park to a private developer for the purpose of building an additional hotel convention center. Last year, the council voted for a tax break, effectively spending $31 million in public money to create the new Thompson's Point complex, which includes a convention center.

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If it sells part of Congress Square plaza, Portland will buck a trend toward adding green space in cities, a reader contends.

The Associated Press

According to the Brookings Institution, convention spaces across the U.S. have increased by 50 percent in the past 20 years. Over the past 10 years, spending on U.S. convention spaces has doubled to $2.4 billion annually, most of which comes from public coffers.

The problem is that the actual number of businesses hosting conventions has steadily fallen over the past 15 years. Attendance at the largest 200 conventions peaked back in the mid-1990s. Due to the popularity of Skype and online conferences, businesses no longer need to hold physical conferences and spend money on travel and lodging at physical conventions and meetings.

By contrast, urban developers in the United States are finally catching up to the emerging trend that city planners have known for centuries -- public parks create happiness, commerce, leisure and health in congested and often polluted urban areas. Food gardens, green spaces and fresh air are all the rage in popular parks.

During the era of "urban renewal," Portland sold chunks of its public parks, including Lincoln Park and Deering Oaks, in order to make room for more cars and more business on the peninsula. Unfortunately, a comparable space has never been restored and the sale of Congress Square park would be the first time that a community in Maine has sold a majority of an in-town park to private developers. With the certain death of conventions, Portland developers must stop looking to the past and start looking to our greener future. 

Holly Seeliger


Cutler, Michaud set table for a LePage win in 2014

Now that Rep. Mike Michaud has officially announced his candidacy for governor, the stage is set for a repeat performance of the previous gubernatorial election. The same result appears to be inevitable.

With Eliot Cutler once again running as an independent, we will be subjected once more to a multi-candidate contest. Cutler has already begun his campaign with news releases that inexplicably criticize Michaud, not the sitting governor.

In his column of July 17 ("Challengers should challenge LePage and not each other"), Greg Kesich suggested: "If Cutler wants to run against Michaud, he should do it -- next June in the Democratic primary." Cutler may not be in full agreement with the Democratic ideology, but his entering the primary and freely expressing his own views is preferable to a continuation of the disastrous LePage administration.

A coalition of Democrats and Independents would ensure the election of a governor who will actually represent all the people of Maine, not just a favored minority. Both Michaud and Cutler are acceptable, qualified candidates and either one would be preferable to Paul LePage.

There are other options for the 2014 contest. LePage might suddenly decide to retire from public life and return to the private sector, which is more forgiving of his volatile temperament. Such a gesture is highly unlikely.

The legislature might pass a law requiring a runoff vote in multiple-candidate elections. Regrettably it is not likely to survive a LePage veto.

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