The Parks Department and Historic Preservation Department are teaming up with the Friends of Western Promenade to develop a master plan for the historic park. Michael Kelley / The Forecaster

PORTLAND — At more than 180 years old, the Western Promenade is one of Portland’s oldest public parks, but unlike other historic properties in the city, there is no official long-term vision for it.

That is about to change. Since early 2019, the Parks and Recreation Department, Historic Preservation Department and Friends of Western Promenade have been working with Boston-based KZLA landscape architects to come up with a master plan for the park, which extends from Maine Medical Center to Danforth Street and overlooks the Fore River.

The Parks Commission and Historic Preservation Board are expected to hold a joint workshop on the plan, which is still in the draft phase, on Wednesday, Jan. 22. Ethan Hipple, deputy director of the city’s Parks and Recreation Department, said more information about the plan and the changes proposed will be available after that meeting.

Deb Andrews, the city’s historic preservation manager, said the Western Prom is Portland’s only designated historic landscape area that lacks a master plan. Other historic landscape areas include Baxter Boulevard, Deering Oaks, the Eastern Promenade and Lincoln Park.

“We have, over the last 15 years, been developing master plans for these areas, so as the city spends money for improvements to these parks, we have a basis for these improvements to make sure they are sensitive to the original designed intent,” Andrews said. “That doesn’t mean (these parks) are set in stone and can’t be changed to meet current needs.”

The plan could recommend to reintroduce some historic elements of the park have been lost, including a circa 1981 pavilion and 1905 stairs at the northern end of the property. Andrews said as time has gone on, the roadway width has also been altered in spots and the park has lost some of its tree canopy.

The plan, Andrews said, will also examine how to better activate the park for programming and could include the installation of new lighting and benches, as well as adding more natural landscaping on the slope and providing a connection between Maine Medical Center and the garage it built on St. John Street.

The $43,370 project is being funded by a $21,700 matching grant Andrews secured in 2018 from the Maine Historic Preservation Commission and financial assistance from the Friends of Western Promenade. Additionally Maine Medical Center has set aside funding for maintenance of the park as part of its campus expansion project.

The Western Prom, which was designed by the noted landscape architects Olmsted Brothers in 1904 at the behest of Mayor James Phinney Baxter, was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in October 1989.

The park plan is still in the draft stage, but could be ready for adoption this spring. It calls for the restoration of historic elements lost over the years and for enabling more public use. Courtesy / City of Portland

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