Dueling visions for the future of Congress Square will be presented to the City Council next week in the latest attempt to revitalize a small park that sits in the heart of Portland’s arts district and was the focus of a heated political fight.

A 17-member study group examined two options for the roughly half-acre plaza: redesign the park within its existing configuration or use the same space for a multilevel park that includes green lawn atop a privately owned event center. The rooftop proposal comes roughly five months after city voters passed new protections for the city’s open spaces in response to city officials’ attempts to sell part of the plaza to the adjacent hotel that wants to build the event center.

The two options will be presented Monday to a City Council that has been deeply divided over the issue of private development in the public space. Before the council votes on the issue, however, the proposals will be vetted in the coming months by the Portland Land Bank Commission and the Portland Parks Commission.

Option 1, which won the endorsement of the majority of the advisory group members, would maintain the existing footprint but redesign the plaza with green space, play areas for children, a water feature, cafe-style seating and enhanced walkways designed to draw more people into the park. It also includes an overhead grid-like structure with lights.

The ground-level park carries an estimated $1.4 million cost and would provide more space for performances, outdoor markets and other activities, supporters said.

“It allowed for a wider range of activities and amenities that will attract a diverse group of people in all seasons,” said Bree LaCasse, a Friends of Congress Square Park board member who served on the redesign group.

A second option proposes a multi-level, or terraced, park that includes cafe-style seating on the ground-level and rooftop green space built over an 8,600-square-foot “event center” attached to the Westin Portland Harborview Hotel. The terraced park, which would feature more total green space, would come at a higher cost – an estimated $1.7 million, not including any structural enhancements to the event center to support a rooftop lawn.

Both designs also recommend reconfiguring the busy Congress Square intersection. Under the proposal, Free Street would intersect only with Congress Street just northeast of the spot where Congress, High and Free streets converge today. The two designs also propose dedicated parking spots along High Street for food trucks.

The advisory group’s 10-5 vote – one member abstained and one was absent – in support of Option 1 came after three meetings in which there was universal support for revitalizing the plaza but continuing disagreement over whether those plans should include the event center sought by the Westin and supported by many in Portland’s business community.

In June, city voters passed an ordinance making it harder for the City Council to sell several dozen city-owned public spaces and effectively blocking the proposed sale of part of Congress Square Plaza to accommodate the event center.

Determined not to abandon the event center, supporters floated the idea of a multi-level park featuring a mixture of green landscaping and “hardscaping” on the ground-level and a “lawn area” on top of the new center. The proposal put forward by consulting contractor KMDG envisioned a terraced park in which visitors would be drawn to the rooftop park by several staircases or a ramp switchbacking up a grassy, tree-covered incline along High Street.

Steve Hewins, executive director of Portland Downtown District, said the proposed design wasn’t exactly what he had envisioned – he imagined something more akin to the famous Spanish Steps of Rome – but he continues to hope the two visions of a park and an event center can come together.

“I know the city needs more event space, so I was always hoping for a win-win situation where we have a world-class park with event space underneath it,” said Hewins, who abstained from the final vote because he did not believe the advisory group was charged with recommending one option over the other. “Portland has become a destination city, there is no question about it. And the idea that we could draw more year-round visitors, particularly for business travelers … would help the economy” during the slower winter months.

But critics of the event center – led by members of Friends of Congress Square Park and those who led the June referendum campaign – question the accessibility of the rooftop park and said maintaining the plaza’s current size would allow for more robust use of the space.

They also pointed out that the rooftop park’s $1.7 million estimated cost, prepared by consulting firm Wright-Ryan, does not include the additional costs to strengthen the roof of the event center – costs that the city or other groups, not the hotel, would be expected to cover.

Numerous advisory group members cited the uncertainties and concerns about accessibility for handicapped people and families with strollers in choosing to support Option 1 instead of an elevated park.

During the past six months, Congress Square Plaza has undergone a makeover that has drawn more foot traffic and regular use to a plaza that had developed a reputation as a gathering place for homeless people, as well as those who are drinking and taking drugs. The addition of colorful tables and chairs, a platform seating area, a popular lunch truck and regular arts/cultural events have drawn large groups of visitors to the park into the fall.

Friends of Congress Square Park, which led the revitalization with the help of local cultural groups and businesses, also paid to wrap the plaza’s trees in holiday lights this winter similar to parks throughout Portland. And LaCasse said plans are in the works for events throughout the winter and into next spring.

“People have really responded” to the improvements, LaCasse said. “Option 1 will allow us to continue and expand upon that.”