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PORTLAND, Maine — A group hoping to return Portland’s Fort Allen Park to its former glory is facing a critical two-month stretch of city reviews and public outreach.
On Wednesday night, representatives of the organization Friends of the Eastern Promenade will return before Portland’s Historic Preservation Board to discuss their latest plans for the 9-acre park overlooking Casco Bay. That kicks off a slate of four presentations or meetings over a two-month span, at the end of which, the group hopes to earn the board’s official blessing.
“This is a destination for everything from tour buses to horse drawn carriages and duck boats,” Diane Davison, president of the Friends of the Eastern Promenade, told the Bangor Daily News on Tuesday. “It’s a popular place for weddings — there was even one out here on a recent 20-degree Saturday night.”
The 5-year-old Friends organization has already had an effect on the location, partnering with Portland Trails to establish access to two recreational paths creating a loop on the promenade, and last year resurrecting the park’s summer concert series, which had dwindled to one show per season before the group raised enough money for a full slate of seven performances in 2011. The final August show, Davison said, drew more than 1,000 people to the grassy slopes facing the iconic bandstand, first built along with the rest of the park in the 1890s.
Within weeks, she said, the Friends of the Eastern Promenade plan to release a map and trail guide to the promenade, complete with historical facts, osprey watching locations and spots where dogs can be let off a leash.
But the group’s major project remains the $1 million-plus rehabilitation, in which organizers plan to use the park’s look from 1890 to 1930 — identified as the site’s “period of historic significance” before upkeep of the grounds lost momentum — as inspiration.
“The park … really had a period of about 40 years where it was very lush and had a Victorian feeling to it,” said Martha Lyon, a Massachusetts-based historic landscape expert hired by the Friends group to create the project designs.
Friends of the Eastern Promenade is calling for the restoration of two old canons and the earthen berms once built up to shield the weapons from potential attack by enemy warships — as well as the embrace of newer military relics by better incorporating the famous mast of the World War II cruiser USS Portland, set up at the site as a monument nearly 50 years ago, into the park walkways.
Wrought iron fencing at the park must be fixed or replaced, and a central path from the street to the bandstand will be returned in accordance to the park’s historical plans. A line of buffering trees is proposed for the street side of the park, and tall street lights are to be replaced by low-level bollard lighting along the walkways.
Yet to be final using public comment and that of the Historic Preservation Board, Davison said, are the specific materials and plants used in the rehabilitation.
After Wednesday night’s workshop with the board, the Friends group will hold two presentations on March 8 — at 5 p.m. before the city’s Parks Commission at 55 Portland St., and at 7 p.m. for the wider public at the East End Community School — and what they hope will be their final hearing before the Historic Preservation Board on April 18.
“The thing that’s really wonderful about this is there’s a tremendous amount of interest in this,” Lyon said. “People are really passionate about this landscape and what it means about the city and the city’s heritage.”
Davison said the minimal changes being proposed in terms of the amount of impervious surface at the park may project advocates to get city permits through city staff reviews, instead of triggering a full planning board review.
She said the group hopes work can begin on the rehabilitation by next fall, and ideally be completed in time for a bicentennial celebration in October 2014. But she added that, in addition to the required city and historical approvals, Friends of the Eastern Promenade must raise funds for the project, and is accepting donations through its website, EasternPromenade.org.