Study Group Deadlocked on Proposal for Congress Square Plaza from Rockbridge

Congress Square Plaza with the Planned Westin Hotel in the Background.

By Carol McCracken  (Post # 1,427)

It was a close horse race right up until the last vote was taken – whether or not the Congress Square Redesign Study Group would support the proposal for the redevelopment of the Plaza that adjoins the $50 M rennovation of the historic Eastland Hotel into a new Westin Hotel.

The Congress Square Redesign Study Group, shortly before 9 pm.,  voted 6  - 6   to support the proposal put forth by Rockbridge.  That tie vote will be forwarded to the HCDC committee that meets next week. That Committee in turn will vote  its recommendation to be forwarded to the City Council for its  decision.  The charge to the Study Group was to make a recommendation for the design and use of the property located in the heart of the arts district.

Following a presentation by Rockbridge local architect, Patrick Costin, opponents of the proposal,  Frank Turek and  Alex Landry, launched a shallow fishing expedition for strategies to sink the proposal at the start.   Landry claimed that  since a Texaco gas station  had been located in the area once that remediation of the ground was required regardless of the outcome of the proposal.  He badgered the city staff for information on the value of the property at issue.  Turek represented the Parkside Association and Landry the Bayside Association to the Study Group, tried to go well beyond the purview of the Groups responsibility and had to be reigned in more than once.  “The policy questions such as land transactions will fall to the city council,” said Chris O’Neil, liason to the city from the Portland Community Chamber.

O’Neil was one of twelve who testified in favor of the proposal while five testified against the proposal.  O’Neil told the Study Group that as it is, the space is a greatly wasted space and needs a building, but the City can’t afford to build one.  He continued that some developers say they don’t have the stomach to go the process as established by city hall.  Attorney Harold Pachios said “This is an area of high retail value and yet it is hard to get retail tenants in that area. The event center will have a positive influence because the area needs consumers on the street to buy from the retailers.” Opponents of the proposal said the events center would take up too much space leaving little room for the Plaza.

Study Group member Jamie Parker, City Parks and Recreation, opposed the proposal saying it’s “too much buildlng.”  The Public Art  Committee representative Pandora Lacrosse said the Committee did not support the proposal.  But, Peter Bass, of Creative Portland, supported the proposal as did Board President Jack Lufkin, Portland Development Corporation.  “This proposal embraces…satisfies the goals of the city.  An event center is an immensely active place…businesses can’t understand why we are having such a long discussion.  Any additional problems can be worked out through the city’s process.  There wasn’t money before and there won’t be in he future.  This strikes a good balance.”

City Councilor Kevin Donoghue from the East End did not support the proposal. He said he could not see the benefit to the community of the Park was remains open-minded. He served as Chair of the Study Group in lieu of Chair David Marshall who did not attend the meetng.