Published Date Written by David CarkhuffThe Westin Portland Harborview event center proposal for Congress Square Plaza will re-emerge as an issue next week, as city staff alerted neighbors that the new owners of the historic Eastland Park Hotel will unveil a proposal Wednesday, April 24.
Two years ago in late February, RockBridge Partners, a division of RockBridge Capital, announced the acquisition of the 202-room Eastland Park Hotel and announced that the property would undergo a $40 million comprehensive renovation and rebranding. It's been nearly a year since a city exploratory committee met with representatives of RockBridge Partners to explore possibilities for the new owners and renovators of the historic Eastland Park Hotel to build an events facility and ballroom in Congress Square. The Eastland is expected to become a Westin hotel when it reopens, tentatively in the spring of 2014.
Opponents of this plan to expand hotel space into the public square say they have gathered more than 1,000 signatures on paper and online petitions in a bid to halt hotel acquisition of a portion of the space at the intersection of High and Congress streets.
Now, a memo from Alex Jaegerman, Portland Planning Division Director, and Greg Mitchell, Portland Economic Development Director, reports that the city's Housing and Community Development Committee will hear a presentation from RockBridge Capital about a revised proposal.
"This is a message to interested parties," regarding the public process for consideration of the Westin Portland Harborview proposal, "to purchase a portion of Congress Square Plaza for development of an event facility," the memo stated.
"RockBridge Capital is presently in the process of revising their proposal and concept plans for city consideration. The revised proposal is scheduled for presentation at a HCDC Workshop on April 24, 2013, at 5:30 in City Council Chambers. The HCDC presentation will be followed over the course of the next several weeks by meetings between the Eastland-Westin team and any interested organization or board, a (Congress Square Redesign Study Group) meeting, and a follow-up HCDC meeting on May 29 which will include a public hearing. At that time, the HCDC may vote on a recommendation to the City Council or outline a process for further consideration."
The Portland City Council and the city's administrative staff "fully understand the high degree of community interest in this subject, and have developed this process to enable everyone involved to receive and consider information, get answers to questions, and provide input before any decisions are made concerning the future of Congress Square Plaza," the memo concludes. "The time frame allows constituent organizations to receive the information and confer with their governing bodies in developing their recommendations and comments to the City committees and City Council."
An architect's involvement
Frank Turek, treasurer of the Parkside Neighborhood Association, said he receives requests for updates about the square from Henry Cobb, a renowned architect based at of Pei Cobb Freed & Partners.
"I've been having email correspondence with Henry Cobb, who is the architect of the museum," Turek said. "The museum and the park were both funded with the same federal grant in the late '70s, early '80s, Henry Cobb is a nationally known architect, he designed the John Hancock building in Boston. This is one of his favorites," Turek noted, referring to the Portland Museum of Art, which overlooks the square.
A celebration is planned in June for the 30th anniversary of the major landmark across Congress Street from Congress Square. Called the Charles Shipman Payson Building, the home of the Portland Museum of Art is iconic to Portland. The museum announced its plans to host the building's architect, Cobb, as the 2013 Bernard A. Osher Lecturer.
In this illustrated lecture titled "The Streets of Falmouth Neck: Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow," "Cobb will discuss Portland's streets and squares and the ongoing dialogue between the memory of the city's past, preoccupation with its present, and dream of its future," according to a museum announcement.
The lecture will be held on Tuesday, June 18 at the Holiday Inn By the Bay from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. Tickets are $15/$10 for PMA Members and can be purchased online at portlandmuseum.org or by telephone at 775-6148.
City schedule to review Congress Square, Rockbridge Capital plans
• April 24, 5:30 p.m. — HCDC workshop, City Council Chambers. "This will be a single agenda item meeting to receive Rockbridge Capital's presentation/proposal and for HCDC discussion with public discussion to occur at the other meetings listed," states a city memo.
• May 2 to May 28 — Eastland at Westin at Harbors Edge representatives will be available to meet with various organizations and associations upon request that are interested in engaging directly with them.
• May 22, 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. — Congress Square Redesign Study Group, City Council Chambers. This will be an opportunity for the CSRSG to review the revised proposal and send their comments and recommendations to the HCDC and City Council.
• May 29, 5:30 p.m. — HCDC public meeting. This will be a single-item agenda to receive public input on the Eastland at Westin at Harbors Edge presentation/proposal. At this meeting, it is expected that HCDC members will outline the process for any future meetings.