City Delays Vote on Sale of Congress Sq. Plaza to RockBridge

Protestor Michael Anthony: “They are not listening to their constituents. Who do you represent?”

By Carol McCracken  (Post # 1,522)

After almost four hours of public comment in which the opponents of the sale of the Congress Square Plaza to RockBridge Capital easily doubled those who testified in favor of the sale, the City Council voted to postpone its vote until its next meeting – next week.  Councilor Cheryl Leeman said she needed more time to consider the matter before she could vote.  Councilor Mavadones said he’d come prepared to vote, but would agree to the delay providing no public testimony would be taken then.  He said he’d already heard most of the comments in previous public meetings. Others apparently went along to get along.

At issue for RockBridge, is a parcel of land next to its Westin Hotel (formerly the Eastland Hotel), that is 9,500 sq. ft. in size leaving 4,800 sq. ft. as a public space.  The proposed purchase price is $523,640 based on $55.12 per sq. ft. is based upon a market appraisal, according to Greg Mitchell, the city’s director of Economic Development.  RockBridge proposal is to build an events center in the space that comprises about 2/3 of the plaza. Conditions that would require RockBridge to make the events center available to the communty under the auspices of Creative Portland are part of the proposed contract.  Some have expressed concern that RockBridge will simply get tired of the debate and wash its hands of the proposed transaction. Opponent Tom Eder said recently he’d like that to happen.  “We can hope that will happen,” he said.

Roughly fifty people testified in opposition to the proposed sale of the property located in the downtown arts district.  At times the opponents were quite emotional – specifically one opponent entered council chambers with a large sign opposing the sale – against chamber rules. When he refused to leave council chambers or take down the sign, Mayor Michael Brennan asked that the police be called to remove him from chambers, although that was not necessary.  Michael  Anthony left before police arrived.  Rob Levin, attorney for the Friends said that he was unable to find an easement to the remaining property that the city claims to have.  Secondly, he reminded the council that a petition for an ordinance to the Land Bank Law was filed with the city last Friday.  He said that an immediate decision would be premature and could be resolved in the courts.  The city is required to rule on the validity of the petition by Friday, September 13th.

Earlier in the day Frank Turek, president of the Friends of Congress Square Plaza, met with the Friends of Deering Oak Park at its monthly meeting. Turek gave an overview of the proposed ordinance. He said he was not looking for approval, but was merely reaching out to like entities for feedback.  At the end of the presentation, Chair Anne Pringle said:  “It’s scary to think the city council can sell a park at it’s whim.  But I have concerns about technical  improvements that need to be made to parks. The concept of protecting makes sense, but some tweaking in the language is needed.”