More than 100 people want to help redesign and create art for a once-embattled public square in downtown Portland.

City officials believe it is the strongest expression of interest in any city request for qualifications to date.

The city announced Thursday that its open call for qualifications to improve Congress Square Park and the surrounding square generated interest from an international audience.

The public art component drew the most attention, with 97 artists from the United States, United Kingdom and Canada vying for the contract. And 12 people and firms expressed interest in redesigning the square.

“Interest in the Congress Square Redesign project has been high because of the unique opportunity to combine urban design and public art to transform Congress Square into a welcoming, accessible public open space in the heart of the city with a focus on arts and performance,” City Hall Communications Director Jessica Grondin said in a written statement.

The submissions include each applicant’s qualifications, as well as some basic design concepts. The city will appoint two committees, consisting of city staff and community members, to select a group of finalists to interview before selecting a particular firm or individual to create a design. A public meeting will likely be scheduled for May, the city said.

“The finalists will not be creating design proposals,” said Caitlin Cameron, the city’s urban designer. “They will be chosen based on their interview and public forum presentation.”

The effort to redesign Congress Square comes on the heels of a contentious debate about the park’s future, which ultimately was decided in a citywide referendum.

In 2013, the City Council voted to sell about two-thirds of Congress Square Park, a small, concrete plaza at the corner of Congress and High streets, to Rockbridge Capital, an Ohio-based developer working for the Westin Portland Harborview hotel, so it could be used for an event center. The sale encountered strong neighborhood opposition, and residents collected signatures calling for a citywide referendum to undo the sale and increase protections for all city parks. The referendum narrowly passed in June 2014.

Since then, the Friends of Congress Square Park, which will have a representative on each selection committee, has reinstated events in the plaza and won a $100,000 grant from Southwest Airlines to improve the area. In addition to redesigning the park, the city launched a broader effort to redesign Congress Square, which includes public spaces immediately adjacent to the intersection of Congress, High and Free streets.

Bree LaCasse, who serves on the friends group board, said the group was pleased with the robust response.

“We were anticipating a strong response because of the renewed interest in creating engaging and accessible public spaces that is occurring around the world,” she said. “And the fact that the Congress Square redesign project also includes public art as an integral component of the design puts us at the forefront of creative placemaking.”


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