The pedestrian zone at the intersection of High, Congress and Free streets has undergone intense and lengthy construction in the first phase of the Congress Square redesign project. The contract between the city and the construction firm that performed the work, Gordon Construction, was terminated last fall after disagreements over unexpected issues and delays. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Portland has parted ways with the contractor it hired to execute the Congress Square redesign and is hoping to restart construction with a different firm this summer.

Documents obtained by the Press Herald reveal the city and Gordon Contracting opted to terminate their contract “for convenience” in October after months of strife over unexpected issues and serious delays.

The termination agreement, which says neither party is at fault, shows Gordon will not be paid beyond the $2.6 million laid out in the original contract.

The $7.2 million redesign project was slated to be completed in 2024 but has been plagued by months of delays and the first phase is still not complete. The city announced last August that Gordon would not be returning to the site, but would not disclose why. The city says it now hopes to complete all of the work before the end of summer 2025.

The first phase, budgeted at $2.6 million, included improvements to traffic flow and sidewalks at the intersection at High and Congress streets, work that was originally expected to be largely completed by fall 2022, with final paving and landscaping to occur the next spring. While Gordon completed most of the work, a few finishing touches are still left, the city said.

Phase two calls for upgrades to Congress Square Park, including the installation of new artwork and improvements to the plaza outside the Portland Museum of Art.


The city has not yet hired a new contractor, but Director of Public Works Mike Murray said the city plans to solicit bids sometime this spring so construction can resume by summer.

The City Council voted Monday to allocate $750,000 in capital improvement dollars to round out funding for phase two, which is budgeted at $4.6 million with other funding from the Portland Public Art Committee and private fundraising by the Congress Square Redesign Committee. The project also received funding from the National Endowment for the Arts Place Grant and National Endowment for the Arts Our Town Grant.

Pedestrians cross High Street on Wednesday. The city has cut ties with the contractor that began work on the $7.6 million Congress Square redesign project and hopes to restart work on the project with a new contractor this summer and complete the work by the summer of 2025. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

A handful of people wrote to the council ahead of the vote urging them to approve the measure.

Emily Read, executive director at One Longfellow Square, said in a phone interview Wednesday that she is looking forward to the completion of the project. Her organization routinely puts on concerts and events in the park and she hopes they can do more of that once the redesign is complete.

“The park I think is just a beautiful space and a hub of activity, and we value that. I look at the plans for what could be. It could turn a nice space into a really fantastic space,” she said.

Going forward, Murray said the city will be reevaluating the project plans but he ultimately anticipates the project will look very similar to the original design plans.



The first phase took far longer than expected and resulted in partial closures on High and Free streets for months, frustrating nearby businesses and residents.

Meanwhile the city and Gordon Contracting were at odds over who was responsible for the delays and how to respond to them.

Gordon was awarded the contract in May 2021 and started work in April 2022. A month later, they ran into their first hitch – an electrical vault that was discovered under the street. Work was halted for three months until Central Maine Power could remove it.

Jessica Grondin, a spokesperson for the city, said Gordon pulled their staff from the site, but they could have completed some of the superficial, above-ground work and kept the project moving. They also asked for more money – a request Grondin said the city declined.

Work resumed in August until the contractors went on hiatus at the beginning of 2023 because of the winter weather. That’s when Gordon brought in a third party utility contractor, Dig Smart, to look for any other power lines underground that might delay the project further.


According to Drew Straehle, Gordon’s project manager, they found a number of electrical lines and fiberoptic cables that needed to be removed before construction could proceed. Straehle said the wires were discovered in a spot where they planned to build a foundation for a traffic signal. He notified the city immediately.

Straehle said the city never responded to his concerns. “It fell on deaf ears,” he said.

Grondin said the city was in communication with Gordon during the spring of 2023.

In May, Gordon said the city was defaulting on the contract and offered two choices: to work with a mediator to resolve the issues or to amicably part ways.


Emails between the company and city staff obtained by the Press Herald show they began discussing termination in June.


“Gordon would like to call (off) the project and move on with a termination for convenience,” an attorney for the city wrote to the city’s corporation council on June 12, 2023. “This is not a take it or leave it option, and Gordon would be willing to have a discussion regarding returning to the site to perform the remaining work or a portion of it. They have other work teed up and they have moved on to that while this project was on hold. So there would be a delay in them remobilizing to the site, possibly not until next year.”

City staff exchanged several emails back and forth that summer about Gordon’s retainer and how much the city was willing to pay them to finish some “punch list” items. They consulted federal and state officials about funding for the project and whether ending its contract with Gordon would put the project in jeopardy.

Ultimately, the city and Gordon agreed to terminate “for convenience,” meaning neither party was at fault.

Straehle said in an phone interview Tuesday that the company was frustrated with the city’s response to multiple issues that cropped up during construction and felt city staff were unresponsive.

He said his experience working with the city was unusual because the city did not have an intermediary accustomed to handling construction contracts. Instead, he worked directly with the city, which Straehle said sometimes resulted in confusion.

“The city was pretty much representing themselves, and I’m not sure they had experience with construction contract language,” Straehle said.


“We were established in 1946,” he said. “This is the first time since 1946 that we have not completed a contract.”

Murray declined to comment on those criticisms, but he said it is not unusual for the city to work directly with a contractor.

A pedestrian strides through Congress Square at the intersections of High, Congress and Free streets on Wednesday. The area was the site of intense and lengthy construction. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

“We very much take a hands-on approach. It’s our project so we’re going to be involved,” Murray said.

He said the decision to end the contract ultimately came about when Gordon requested an extension to complete their work and additional payment.

“In the end, the city did not support that and we chose to terminate the contract for convenience,” Murray said. “I believe that Gordon Construction has been successful in a lot of projects around the state and I’m wishing them well.”

Grondin said reopening the streets and sticking with the original project cost were major factors in the decision to terminate.

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