Portland hotel developers undecided about pursuing Congress Square

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PORTLAND — The planned sale of most of Congress Square Park to developers of the Westin Portland Harborview Hotel is uncertain after voters last week added the park to the city land bank.

Question 1 passed June 10 by 287 votes. On Monday, Mayor Michael Brennan said there will be City Council workshop July 21 to discuss “all the issues surrounding the recent referendum vote.”

City Hall spokeswoman Jessica Grondin said Monday a  6-3 City Council vote in favor of the sale last September still stands, but it is up to the hotel developers, RockBridge Capital, to keep the proposal moving forward.

Hotel General Manager Bruce Wennerstrom on Monday said the company is still considering its next move.

“We just have to sit back and analyze this and give it a lot of thought,” he said. “It is too early after the vote to make that decision.”

Councilors approved the $524,000 sale of about 9,500 square feet of the park at Congress and High streets so the hotel could add an events center. About 4,800 square feet of the park would remain, including the clock that once topped Union Station on St. John Street.

The referendum question, which placed the entire park in the land bank with 34 other city parks and squares, requires eight councilors to approve the sale of a land bank parcel. If six councilors approve a sale, it could be sent to the public as a referendum question.

Question 1 is retroactive to Sept. 6, 2013, about 10 days before councilors approved the park sale to RockBridge Capital. It goes into affect next month and cannot be amended by councilors for five years.

Grondin said any council discussion about setting a referendum date will occur after the ordinance amendments are in effect and only if RockBridge remains interested in buying the parcel.

Spending reports filed with the city clerk’s office through June 6 show RockBridge donated $20,000 of the $53,000 raised by Forward Portland, the political action committee formed to defeat Question 1.

Protect Portland Parks, the political action committee that supported the referendum, raised more than $40,000.

“The vote was obviously disappointing, only a couple hundred votes, but clearly shows what a divisive issue this is,” Wennerstrom said. “There was no clear mandate on either side, quite frankly.”

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or dharry@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

Portland City Hall reporter for The Forecaster. Baltimore native, lived in Maine since 1989. A journalist since 2005, covering much of Cumberland and York counties. I joined The Forecaster in 2012.