Published Date Written by Craig LyonsThe city of Portland is poised to begin negotiations with the owners of the former Eastland Park Hotel that could lead to the sale of two-thirds of Congress Square Park.
The City Council's Housing and Community Development Committee voted 3-1 to authorize city staff to begin negotiations with RockBridge Capital — the owners of the former Eastland — about the possible sale of a portion of the park for the hotel to add an events center.
Councilor Nick Mavodones said the question for him around the possibility of selling a portion of Congress Square centered on when it's appropriate to sell public property. He said he thinks it's acceptable in the cases where the sale serves a public purpose.
"In this case, I think it does," he said.
Mavodones said he doesn't know what will come out of negotiations but sees potential for a building and plaza that benefits both the hotel and the public.
"I think there's a real potential for a win-win here," he said.
RockBridge Capital — the firm that bought the Eastland Park and is converting it into the Westin Portland Harbor View — has presented the city with plans for a proposed 9,400-square-foot building and leaves a 4,836-square-foot public plaza.
The Congress Square Redesign Study Group met last Wednesday to make a recommendation on RockBridge's proposal but wound up deadlocked on the future of the park.
The study group was split with half thinking that the proposal didn't leave an adequate public amenity and the city ought to focus on renovating the space, while the other half felt that the proposal left adequate useable public space and offered Portland greater economic opportunity.
Councilor Kevin Donoghue — the sole dissenting vote on Wednesday — said he thinks the RockBridge plan has promise but so do the proposals for the park that haven't been seen.
"What's hanging me up is I can't see the plaza," he said, and that what the plaza will look like has been hidden under the cover of improving the whole square.
Donoghue said he wants to see that the quality of a plaza is of greater benefit than what can be thought up to redesign the whole park. He said he regrets not seeing the full promise for the park that could have been realized had the request for proposals crafted by the redesign committee been put out to solicit ideas.
Councilor Ed Suslovic said he's excited about the proposal because it's not just about the plaza but gives the city an opportunity to re-imagine the design of the whole of Congress Square.
Suslovic said he's enthusiastic about looking at the design of the plaza in context with other improvements to Congress Square, including the potential conversion of High Street to two-way traffic. He said it sounds like there's money for both the analysis of the two-way conversion, $50,000 the city has set aside for design services and $50,000 that RockBridge will contribute to configure the park to make things happen in the square.
"That's where my enthusiasm is here tonight," he said.
Mavodones said he strongly supports a broader analysis of the intersection and the square to help determine the future configuration of the public spaces. He said he sees starting the negotiations for the possible sale of the park as the impetus for that process.
With the committee's vote, the city will start negotiations with RockBridge about a possible sale, and, if agreement is reached, the proposed sale will go back before the HCDC and City Council for approval.