Downtown Plaza Named for Former Portland City Manager

Toni and John Menario, Following the City Council Meeting Earlier This Week.

Toni and John Menario, Following the City Council Meeting Earlier This Week.

By Carol McCracken  (Post # 2,627)

At first glimpse it looked like a simple enough action.  But it wasn’t.  Some supported it and some were chagrined by the attack used to make a point by its adversaries.

Former City Manager John Menario, who is credited with turning a blighted city into a thriving city, was honored when the city council voted to rename the Lobsterman Park, John E. Menario Plaza.  Councilor Jon Hinck, was the only councilor not to support the Plaza name.

Menario, who grew up on Oxford Street in Bayside, was city manager between 1967 to l976, during the height of urban renewal. Toni, his wife, grew up at 14 North Street on the Hill. His groundbreaking actions saving Portland from obscurity were heralded as the best way to revitalize a dying city.  Major building construction and better access to the derelict Old Port via the former Franklin Arterial and now Franklin Street were among his achievements that laid the foundation for today’s Portland.  It’s hard to imagine today, but once the Old Port was a place to avoid.  Most did.  But Menario’s policies changed that and have turned into one of the most  desirable pieces of real estate in Maine.

Then the generations clashed. Former Mayoral candidate Tom MacMillan criticized the move saying that Portland does not do history well. “We don’t need another space for an old white man who displaced lots of low-income people,”  he said.  He preferred that a woman or black person receive that honor.

Councilor Hinck said that Menario was a strong leader, but he could not support the city manager’s  order.