Coming soon to Congress Square park: Something else. Maybe.

The city is requesting submissions from artists and design teams for the opportunity to redesign the once ignored, but recently celebrated concrete plaza at Congress Street and High Street, which was the subject of intense debate in 2014 after the city announced plans to sell a portion of the 1.3-acre parcel to a neighboring hotel.

The plan has two major components that applicants will have to combine into a unified design: a redesign of the park area itself and a public art installation that could become the centerpiece of the space.

“This is an exciting step for the future of Congress Square,” said Jeff Levine, the city’s director of Planning and Urban Development, in a statement released Tuesday. “However, people should remember that any approved implementation will require significant fundraising efforts.”

Meanwhile, the city also has been examining how to redesign the intersection of High and Congress streets to better handle how pedestrians and vehicles interact.

A committee charged with guiding the creation of the art installation has been socking away money since 2012 and has about $125,000 in hand – the expected artist’s fee. The full budget for the work is expected to reach about $500,000, with some funding coming from private donations, Levine said.

Focus on the plaza intensified in 2014 following the proposed sale to the developer of the neighboring Westin Hotel. A group of citizens organized to preserve the park, seizing on the hotel transaction as a symbol of a “developers first” attitude at City Hall.

The group, calling themselves the Friends of Congress Square Park, successfully gathered enough signatures to place a referendum on the June 2014 ballot that added a procedural protection to 35 city-owned properties, which would need the approval of the Land Bank Commission and a super-majority of city councilors before the public spaces could be developed commercially. The measure was narrowly approved by voters.

Later that year, the Friends group was awarded a $100,000 grant from Southwest Airlines to study the park’s use and future.

Submissions are due to the Portland Planning and Urban Development Department by Jan. 28.

Applicants will be reviewed by selection committees. Finalists will be invited to present their ideas at a public forum in March.

The planning process so far is theoretical, as there is no funding yet secured to make any proposal a reality.

Matt Byrne can be contacted at 791-6303 or at:

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