Portland backs off effort to move Parkside police center

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PORTLAND — Neighborhood opposition has convinced the Police Department to back off a plan to move the Parkside Community Policing Center.

But a battle over future funding for the Grant Street center could be on the horizon.

City Councilor David Marshall, who represents the district, said the Police Department wanted to move out of its current space at 85 Grant St. to save money. It’s the only station the city rents; the other spaces are donated, he said.

The city pays the People’s Regional Opportunity Program about $9,600 a year for the space.

Marshall said the West End Community Policing Center recently moved into the Reiche Community Center and space for the Munjoy Hill center is provided by the Munjoy Hill Neighborhood Association.

Parkside Neighborhood Association President Chelsea Miller said residents and landlords vehemently opposed the Police Department’s efforts to move the center.

“When the Parkside Neighborhood Center was built, it was designed to house community policing,” Miller said. “We were really thrown for a loop.”

Miller said residents consider the center a linchpin of their efforts to improve the quality of life in Parkside, a dense and diverse neighborhood that historically has attracted crimes like prostitution and drug dealing. Last week, on the same night the neighborhood association met to discuss the community policing center, a man was stabbed to death within a few buildings of the center.

Members said they played a key role in creating the Parkside Neighborhood Center, which houses programs like Head Start, Portland Adult Education,and Parkside Community Arts in addition to 16 two- and tree-bedroom apartments.

Miller said many neighborhood association members have expressed dismay that PROP will not either donate the space to the police or reduce its rent.

“We felt like PROP was overcharging for this space,” she said.

But Catherine Fellenz, PROP’s interim chief executive officer, said the non-profit gets most of its funding from the state and federal governments, which set restrictions on how the money can be used.

Fellenz said that when the center was created the city agreed to pay rent for the policing center as a way to help cover the center’s operating costs. 

“Then along came the recession,” Fellenz said. “We’re in tough times. All of the players are trying to do more with less.”

Fellenz said the city is already getting a deal on the office space, which is rented to other groups for about $22 per square foot. The city pays about half of that amount.

Funding for the center became uncertain when the City Council reallocated $50,000 in Community Development Block Grant funding from police to LearningWorks, a West End non-profit that serves low-income and at-risk kids.

After that reallocation, Miller said the neighborhood received mixed messages about whether the center would continue to be funded.

“We got a lot of different stories from different people,” she said.

But Marshall said there is enough funding in the current budget to keep the center at its current location.

“I am fully committed to keeping community policing at the Parkside Neighborhood Center,” Marshall said. “It’s the best space available in the neighborhood. “

But the neighborhood association has been asked to raise funds to offset rent – a daunting task for residents who live in one of the city’s poorest neighborhoods.

“There’s no way we can raise $10,000 through bake sales and block parties,” Miller said.

While some landlords have offered to help pay for the center, Miller said the association will pursue long-term funding in the form of grants and corporate sponsorships from groups like Maine Medical Center, Mercy Hospital and the Maine Red Claws, among others.

The association will continue to pursue CDBG funding from the city, she said.

Meanwhile, Miller said she hopes a stable funding solution can be reached soon, so the neighborhood can resume more meaningful work, like bolstering a fledgling crime watch program.

“I feel like this has hindered our other efforts,” she said. “I really want to get back to improving public safety in the neighborhood.”

Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or rbillings@theforecaster.net

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