Congress Square Future & Cost of Living Focus of Mayor’s Meeting

Mayor Brennan at “Meet the Mayor” Public Meeting Today.

By Carol McCracken  (Post #1,467)

Late this afternoon Mayor Michael Brennan hosted his first “Meet the Mayor”  public meeting intended to invite an informal discussion  of city policies and issues.  About twenty attended and took advantage of the opportunity to bring a more personal look at their concerns than is possible in a more formal setting.

A wide range of subjects came up but two that took up much of the l l/2  hour session revolved around the future of Congress Square Park and how difficult it is for some to live in Portland because of the expensive rents and low wages.  Joan Grant, a member of Friends of Congress Square Park, said she’s concerned about the city selling the Park to RockBridge, a developer of the new Westin Hotel.  “The city is going about this backwards.  What is good for the city, really?  Why is the city moving so fast?”  The Mayor responded that “RockBridge does present a natural partnership with the city.  The HCDC did vote to negotiate with RockBridge on the sale of the park.  There is a tremendous opportunity for more discussion about the shape and interchange of High and Congress Street. Having an events center near PMA is a huge asset for the city,” Brennan said.   Grant responded “how does this help the neighborhoods in the area” –  to which there was a lengthy exchange between the two. Adam Arlata, a Grant Street resident and Green candidate for Councilor Jill Duson’s seat, asked that if the “events center doesn’t do well, what knd of compensation will there be for park loosers?” The Mayor said – “We don’t know.  It’s under discussion.  We don’t have the details of the negotiations.” Councilor Duson said:  “I’m leaning toward preserving open spaces downtown.  Overall, I’m trying to wait and see what the final proposal is before I make a decision.”

Scot Seader said:  “A lot of locals can’t afford to live here.”  After being away from his native Portland, he recently returned looking for a position as a chef. So far, he hasn’t found one at a living wage where he can afford the rents in Portland.  Adding to his frustration is the necessity of purchasing City garbage bags for waste disposal.  “This is what our taxes are supposed to go for,” he said.  This hurts said the unemployed chef.  Tom Macmillan concurred when he said that “rents in Portland are forcing working people out.  Wages are not increasing.  Has the city council looked at what is a living wage in Portland, he asked the Mayor.   “People should be spending about 30% of their income for rent. Not 50% to 60% as some are.  We are trying to create housing at all levels of affordability.  We have to make sure we try to faciitate a mix of housing,  We need to do better than a living wage in Portland, responded the Mayor.  Macmillan earns $11,000 as a substitute teacher and is on food stamps.  He’s the head of the Green Party in Portland.

The Mayor said that he’d like to hold a second similar public meeting before the end of the year.

Ralph Carmona, a candidate for John Anton’s city council seat in the fall expressed concern about the health care situation in Maine if the Governor’s bill is not voted down.  He’s one of the leaders of the Concerned Ciizens that is opposed to the addition for the St.Lawrence Arts Center addition.