Park, with recreation

 Squaring off
By NICK SCHROEDER  |  July 16, 2014

In the weeks since the Congress Square Park vote on June 10, one of the city’s most divisive moments in recent memory, a broad coalition of citizens have come together with the aim to forge ahead with constructive, civic-minded plans for the contested public space.

Led by Protect Portland Parks, the organization behind the victory for the Yes on One referendum, the coalition declared in Tuesday press release their intention to reconvene the Congress Square Redesign Study Group, a 13-member committee which had met with Mayor Brennan and city councilors in 2012 and 2013, with the aim of fostering “constructive dialogue over the future of the space and its role in the community” with members from organizations as broad as the Portland Arts and Cultural Alliance, the Portland Museum of Art, the Parkside Neighborhood Association, the Westin Hotel, and the Portland Development Corporation.

In mounting the coalition, the group has also reached out to their former opponents, such as the head of the Portland Chamber of Commerce, a representative of Rockbridge Capital, and broker and developer Jed Rathband, who seemed to indicate that there further attempts to initiate the sale of the park to Rockbridge Capital might be diminished by November.

“As a supporter of the No on One campaign, I was in favor of selling a majority of the park to be developed by the Westin,” Rathband said. “But, it’s time to move on. I don’t feel that another divisive referendum this November would serve Portland well. I’m committed to working with park advocates to find a successful redesign of Congress Square Park that meets the needs of the neighborhood and can be a catalyst for economic development along the upper Congress Street corridor. While I personally believe that a revitalized park could include some architectural structure, at the very least we should explore all our options together as a community.”

Bree LaCasse, a member of Protect Portland Parks and the Portland Public Arts Committee, says she is encouraged by the ongoing discussions, drawing attention to the recent series of art and music events produced by SPACE Gallery and the local organization Friends of Congress Square Park (including, as announced recently, free wi-fi).

“One positive result of the vigorous debate over the future of the park has been to see the community embrace the park again,” she says. “We are excited to build on the renewed community commitment to this important public space to make a park we can all be proud of.”

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