Portland panel: Congress Square should remain a park

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PORTLAND — A city panel reached consensus Monday evening on keeping Congress Square as open space, but changing its recessed plaza design.

The Congress Square Redesign Study Group met at City Hall for the first time since a public forum on May 12 to discuss results of the forum and continue moving forward with the process.

“The agenda for the day is to see if we have a consensus to send along to the City Council,” Alex Jaegerman, the city Planning Division director, said.

The major comments considered from the public forum were the fact that the park at High and Congress streets is the gateway to the arts district, making sure people could flow easily through the park with correct crosswalks, more policing in the park and the recessed design of the park.

“We’ve tried the depressed plaza solution,” Jaegerman said, “and we don’t like it.”

Jan Beitzer of Portland’s Downtown District said it has been determined that one of the recessed plaza’s features, the former Union Station clock, can be safely moved to allow reconfiguration of the space.

“The ability to move the clock is huge,” Beitzer said, so options for the space are not limited.

It was concluded by all members of the group that the space will remain a park and that it should be centered around the arts district. The next step is to figure out how to approach getting designs for the park and the criteria for these designs.

“It is a vertical, not horizontal space,” said Pandora LaCasse of the Public Art Committee, which will be a challenge to designers.

Additional challenges will be figuring out a way to use the park throughout multiple seasons, as well as including room in the design for the private sector to move in.

“Getting businesses to open up into the park would be huge,” said David Lloyd, the mayor’s designee to the committee. The option for the Eastland Hotel to build out onto the park was considered, however the group wanted to be sure the design would not rely on private sector involvement if it did not come.

“We can’t just design a black hole waiting for something to happen and then nothing happens,” Jaegerman said.

The next step is to create either a request for proposals or a request for qualifications.

An RFP would probably attract fewer firms because they would need to come with a design, while an RFQ would attract more firms, but they would be chosen based solely on their qualifications, not their designs for the park.

With $50,000 for the design budget, group members said they are sure many firms will be interested in the project. The next step is to figure out how to best attract the firms who will assemble a team qualified for the job, with the arts aspect in the forefront.

The group plans to meet again Aug. 30, and hopes to have a design selected and ready to begin construction by next summer.

Victoria Fischman is The Forecaster news intern. She can be reached at 781-3661.