Hotel developers unsure whether to continue to pursue sale of Congress Square

Posted June 17, 2014, at 4:04 p.m.

PORTLAND, Maine — 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 hotel developers Rockbridge Capital whether to keep the proposal moving forward.

Hotel General Manager Bruce Wennerstrom said Monday 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 effect 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 in opposition of 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 [decided the vote] — but clearly shows what a divisive issue this is,” Wennerstrom said. “There was no clear mandate on either side, quite frankly.”