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Developers unveil new plan for events center in Congress Square

The developers of the former Eastland Park Hotel unveiled a new iteration of their plans to annex a portion of Congress Square for an events center Wednesday night.4-25-hotel-congress-sq-plan
The City Council's Housing and Community Development Committee heard a presentation from RockBridge Capital — the firm that bought the Eastland Park and is converting it into the Westin Portland Harbor View — which discussed the plans to build a 5,000-square-foot events center but still maintain a portion of the existing square as a public plaza.
"This is certainly a substantive and credible proposal put on the table," said Mayor Michael Brennan. "It's a great starting point for discussion."
The $40 million renovation of the Eastland is under way, according to Adam Valente, managing director of RockBridge Capital, and is on track to be completed in the latter part of 2013.
Patrick Costin, of Canal 5 Studio, said the events center that's being proposed is a single-story building that connects to the hotel, engages the public space and allows for access to the neighboring buildings.
With the events center, the public plaza would be about 4,200 square feet, according to Costin, and be designed to connect with the neighboring plazas in front of the Hay building and the Portland Museum of Art.
The design of the events center and the plaza will create an inviting gateway into Portland and the Arts District, said Costin, unlike Congress Square today.
"Currently, the configuration doesn't do that and can't do that," he said
Costin said the events center addition wouldn't mimic the design of the hotel but instead be more modern. He said the primary design materials are limestone, glass and wood.
"... It's a very simple building and I think its simplicity is the best strategy."
Councilor Ed Suslovic asked what the suitable uses would be for the reduced park since it seems to be designed as a more passive space than one that can accommodate a band or event.
Costin said the plaza, as it's designed, wouldn't accommodate a band or large rally but is a place where people can go drink a coffee, meet someone, watch passersby and then move on.
Brennan asked if it would be possible for the event space to go up a story or down a story to allow for more usable space in the plaza.
"...Almost anything is possible if there's no financial challenges," Costin said, and the costs associated with going up or down are too much for the project.
The plans unveiled at the meeting are the first ones the city has seen since August.
The developers had presented a tentative plan that would use a portion of the park for a ballroom and leave a "pocket park" along Congress Street for public use.
The company's intentions for the ballroom were entirely separate from the rest of the hotel renovation plans.
The Congress Square Redesign Committee did not endorse the developers' plans and preferred the city find another way to rehabilitate the neglected park.
Now that the city has received plans from RockBridge, those designs will be forwarded to the Congress Square Redesign Study Group. The group will review the plans, and make a recommendation on the proposal.
Once the study group has made its recommendation on the RockBridge plans, the HCDC will take the matter up, collect public input and either make a recommendation on the plans or create the process for further review.

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