“Friends” & The Westin Cut Deal for Summer Truce at the Park

Bree LaCasse and Chris Moore, Volunteers with the FoCSP Events Committee

Bree LaCasse and Chris Moore, Volunteers with the FoCSP Events Committee

Jose Ambiz and Michael Clyde Johnson in Front of Their Patio With Seating in the Middle.

Jose Ambiz and Michael Clyde Johnson in Front of Their “Patio With Seating in the Middle” Under Construction.

By Carol McCracken  (Post # 1,766)

It may only last until Labor Day, but for the summer the Friends of Congress Square Park and The Westin Hotel have agreed to bury the ax and adhere to a truce that goes into effect soon and meets the needs of both parties.  The two parties have been at war over the Park next to The Westin, formerly the Eastland Hotel, ever since the city agreed to sell the property to RockBridge to construct an events center.  While the Park was once a hub of activity, in recent  years it has been neglected and become a haven for the marginalized of the city of Portland – drawing unwanted attention to this concrete oasis in the  city’s arts district that is next to the new luxury Hotel and at a major intersection in Portland.

The events committee of the non-profit has procured private funds to coordinate a series of summer of events in the park – from April 28th through August 31st.  The funds are administered by Space Gallery. This exciting summer long series will include a variety of community activities such as dance performances, art interventions, live music and community gatherings.  The Friends are pleased to announce its Bench Lunch event with Small Axe food truck running from  Wednesday – Friday at 11:30 am until 2:30 pm., starting April 28th. Beginning on April 30th, the two groups will coordinate a Dinner in the Park later in the day with Small Axe as well.   A children’s’ event is scheduled for Saturday, May 10th.  The funds will also provide for movable chairs and tables to be used at the Park.  In exchange, The Westin  Hotel has agreed not to begin construction of an events center on the Park, should it receive the title to the Park,  until the Fall.  The Friends sued the City last September 2013 for its right to file a Citizens’ Initiataive that the City had denied earlier the same month. The lawsuit is in the court system awaiting a decision which could come early next month.

The private donations have also permitted Michael Clyde Johnson, a sculptor and designer and his assistant Jose Ambriz,  to begin construction this morning on a cedar 20 ft. by 20 ft. patio that will provide seating in its middle for many. Students from LearningWorks have assisted in the work as well. The patio with seating is expected to be finished at the end of the week said Johnson.  His work is funded through the same Space Gallery private donations.   Please visit:  the.michaelclydejohnson.com for more information on Johnson.

Nat May, Executive Director, of SPACE Gallery, said he is partnering with the Friends group to schedule entertainment for the summer series.  He did not name any entertainment scheduled so far, but said  that he hopes to have about twenty or thirty different kinds of activities scheduled.  May has been talking to groups, but none have confirmed yet. Ted Musgrave, of the Public Services Event Office said:  “If there aren’t concerts and other entertainment scheduled, we will work in rallies, protests and other events.  His phone number is 874-8826 for more information.  It’s expected that a list of the summer events will be available on  the Friends of Congress Square Park web  site as of May 15, 2014.

This truce between the two warring factions will give the public an opportunity to see what the park can be and what it used to be before it became neglected,  rundown and an eyesore in the arts district.  Some hope that if this can be successful and if the Westin does take title to the property which is currently in limbo, RockBridge will decide to forego constructing its proposed events center in favor of retaining it as a public park. As stated previously, The Westin  Hotel has agreed not to begin construction of its events center before Labor Day.

“We are trying to be a good neighbor,” said Bruce Wennerstrom, general manager of The Westin this afternoon.  “We hope this will give us a much more pleasant summer than we had last year.”  He made no commitments, however, as to whether The Westin backers would forgo the construction of the proposed arts center following the summer impasse, although The Westin has agreed not to begin construction until the fall should it receive title to the property in the interim.

This impressive effort begs the question:   Is this effort by the Friends of Congress Square Park a sustainable effort?