It is oddly shaped, steeply sloped and, until recently, had been largely forgotten.

The small gathering place at Bramhall Square, at about 3,400 square feet, might be one of Portland’s tiniest public spaces, but it is finally getting some love.

Liz Trice, founder of the co-working space Peloton Labs, is organizing a miniature wave of support for the miniature space.

“Sitting here and saying hello to people as they walk by, you realize this is a place,” Trice said. “There’s no reason it can’t be as vibrant as Longfellow Square.”

Trice and more than two dozen other people gathered in early September to brainstorm ideas to reinvigorate the swath of triangular real estate that hitherto had not much else going for it.

She said attendees talked about being inspired by the transformation of Congress Square Plaza, another formerly derelict public space that received intense scrutiny and support when the hotel next door asked the city if it could buy the plaza and expand its footprint into what had been public space.

Judging from the transformation of Congress Square Plaza – “which was basically a concrete pit,” Trice said – enough public support and creative input can turn Bramhall Square into an inviting place.

It will likely need all the help it can get.

Perched at the awkward, steeply graded intersection of Bramhall Street, Congress Street and Deering Avenue on Portland’s urban peninsula, the small triangle of space at Bramhall Square is occupied by four trees, three benches, one trash can, some mulch and not much else.

“We’ve gotten requests (for) maintenance and we’ve been responsive to those,” said Troy Moon, who manages open space for the city. “We’d be interested in hearing what ideas people have about it.”

Serenity is also in short supply.

Deering Avenue is a thoroughfare for ambulances rushing to Maine Medical Center, and across the street is the Bramhall Fire Station. Diesel trucks and city buses rumble by. But bustle isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

“The ability to get outside and get a cup of coffee and sit outside, not in your office – it’s not without its challenges” at Bramhall Square, said Emma Holder, president of the Parkside Neighborhood Association and an advocate for Bramhall Square’s future. “You have to stop your conversation once in a while, while a firetruck blasts past.”

But “bustle is good,” she added. “It’s not stagnant.”

Another challenge, Holder said, was the accidental amount of privacy the small space provided by its overgrown trees and lack of bright lighting. Until the Department of Public Works trimmed back those trees at Trice’s request, it was a dark, overgrown place.

People would occasionally use it as a place to shoot up, leaving behind needles.

And then there is the slope issue, Holder said.

“If you’re sure-footed, it’s not much of a problem, but if you’re in a wheelchair or if it’s snowy or icy, it’s a bit of a problem,” Holder said.

Any larger redevelopment of the landscaping, such as a tiered design that would utilize the dramatic slope, would be costlier and therefore would have to go through the capital improvement process.

At the moment, Bramhall Square is also surrounded by some obvious vacancies and underutilized space.

A double storefront at 3 Deering Ave., a natural anchor tenant for the square, has been vacant for at least four months, Trice said. A handsome brick building across Congress Street set up for storefronts is instead being occupied by Maine Medical Center staff.

There is a third store, around the corner on Congress Street, that also recently closed.

In the meantime, Trice and others have borrowed some outdoor tables and chairs from Vinland restaurant and hope to raise some cash to buy light fixtures to hang from the trees.

Filling the voids east along Congress Street may be a matter of time, Trice said, as development marches toward them.

The Bramhall Pub is a few steps away; Tandem Coffee and Bakery is across Congress Street. Salvage BBQ is down Congress Street. And soon, Joe’s Smoke Shop at 665 Congress St., is the next closest property set for development, with 132 apartments expected to be built there.

“Its a critical mass issue,” Trice said. “This sort of feels like a void ready to be filled.”


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