Letters to the Portland Phoenix editors, July 6, 2012
It has been suggested, as an alternative to the warehouse-like "ballroom" proposed by the Eastland Hotel's new owners, that Congress Square and adjacent buildings be redesigned and redeveloped as a "centerpiece" urban plaza. To do this, it will be necessary to 1) raise the topographic-elevation of the plaza paving about three-feet to that of Congress Street, 2) reconstruct the western side-wall of and renovate 593 Congress Street, 3) redesign and reconstruct the south wall of the Eastland Hotel, and 4) redesign and rebuild the plaza.
Accordingly, the hotel would construct the proposed "ballroom" atop the existing south wing of the hotel (with a significant split-level landing at the plaza elevation); the hotel would build a two-story addition, with commercial and/or cultural elements extending 20 to 30 feet into public land across the south face of the hotel, together with a prominent hotel foyer at the plaza; 593 Congress Street would be renovated as a café/bakery or similar suchuse, with a 90-foot expanse of windows and doors facing the plaza; and terrace-dining and patio-café uses would be developed on the north and east edges of the plaza.
For those skeptics who doubt the feasibility of such municipal/private-sector action and cooperation, please consider the demise and resurrection of Boston's Copley Square two or three decades ago — employing the same grade-change strategy, redesign and reconstruction, in front of the Copley Plaza Hotel. Also consider the resurrection of the derelict Market Square area of downtown Newburyport, Massachusetts, circa 1975 — claiming public space from asphalt-paving; designing and building new public spaces; and retrofitting privately owned commercial buildings for adaptive reuse. If the above proposal for Congress Square Plaza is not affordable or achievable today, in the present economic and political environment, I counsel patience; do not squander this resource, but rather "land bank" it until we have restored our optimism, reinvigorated our economy, and rebuilt a more egalitarian and cooperative civil society.
CHARLES A. ALDEN, RLA, AICP
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