In a little more than two hours, the city’s Congress Square Redesign Study Group will meet for the latest discussion of how to use that particular section of currently public space moving forward.
As most people know, the owners of the Westin Harborview Hotel — the newly renovated version of what Portlanders for decades knew as the Eastland Park Hotel — hope to convince city officials to let them acquire the square on the corner of Congress and High streets and use a portion of it for a nearly 10,000-square-foot event space and gallery.
This proposal has divided many in the community — some of whom are glad somebody’s planning to invest in a spot that’s gone largely unused by the public in recent years, and others who argue it’s bad policy for the city to let go of any of its precious publicly-owned property.
Folks in the latter group have generally called for the city to hold onto the square and renovate it so more people will congregate there, as they do down the street in Monument Square or a few blocks away in Tommy’s Park.
The latest proposal by developers Rockbridge Capital includes preserving 4,800 square feet of space as a redesigned public plaza, and the group notes that that’s still more public space than the more frequented Longfellow Plaza a couple of intersections away, and is more than twice as large as the New York City Public Plaza Design Standards minimum for such an area.
Opponents say that’s still not the same as preserving for the public all 17,000 or so square feet or, if the space is going to be sold off to a developer, putting out a request for proposals to see if somebody else might have a better idea for how to use it.
That site has in recent decades been the site of commercial entities, including a Walgreens pharmacy in the 1970s and a doughnut shop known in lore as a prostitution hotspot in the 1980s.
Tonight the city’s study group is expected to either endorse the development proposal or not, then pass that opinion up the chain to the city council’s Housing and Community Development Committee, which will take up the issue a week from tonight.
That committee will need to make a recommendation of its own to the larger city council, so even though the fate of Congress Square Plaza has been in discussion for a long time, there’s still plenty of work left to go before its resolved.