On June 10, Portland voters are being presented with an ill-conceived referendum that appears to be about protecting public parks, but in reality seeks to overturn the City Council’s decision to sell part of Congress Square Plaza for an event center.

Portland’s Downtown District has supported this sale from the start. Yet we are advocates for open space and in support of better management of our public parks. How can this be?

Well, the council has recently passed a new ordinance that effectively addresses the concerns raised in the referendum. This alone is not enough, but it is a solid start.

The plaza has been a failed space since it was created on the site of demolished buildings in the 1980s. Most observers know this to be true, and Portland’s Downtown District has tried to revive it many times over the years, unfortunately without success.

What’s more important is Portland’s future, not this unfortunate past. The land sold to the Westin Hotel takes up roughly two-thirds of the plaza, with the remainder available for a more suitably sized public park. Be assured that we have many parks smaller than this in the downtown.

Of interest to taxpayers: The sale proceeds will pay for this new park. There is no money currently available in the city budget to rehabilitate the present space – and it will take a lot of money.

Finally, every event at this new center means 300 new visitors dropped into the middle of the Arts District. Estimates have the economic value at $11 million annually.

The Arts District and Congress Street are growing and improving. A “no” vote will help this part of Portland really succeed, and well balances open space needs with economic development.

Steve Hewins

executive director, Portland’s Downtown District


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