The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION

Ballot issue on tiny park in Portland, Maine, divides residents on eve of referendum

  • Print

PORTLAND, Maine - City residents, less than a year after legalizing marijuana, are going to the polls again to settle a squabble over a half-acre park that evolved into a much larger debate over the future of the city's public parks.

The ballot issue would add 35 open spaces to the city's list of protected lands and make it more difficult to sell them. Among the spaces is Congress Square Plaza, a small patch of trees, red bricks and concrete in a busy commercial section of downtown Portland, most of which the city wants to sell to an Ohio-based hotel owner.

It's one of several closely watched local elections Tuesday. Also on the ballot are hotly contested primaries in the race for an open seat in Maine's 2nd Congressional District, which Democratic U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud is vacating to run for governor.

Supporters say the parks vote is a referendum on Portland's commitment to public spaces, with some backers saying failure could imperil other open spaces in an increasingly congested city.

"What we're fighting over now is not that half-acre of public park," said Bree LaCasse, a campaigner for the referendum's passage. "It's naive to think there won't be pressures on any other parks."

Opponents of the measure, including business leaders, say reneging on the sale of property to the owner of the Westin Portland Harborview Hotel would discourage investment in the city.

"This referendum is about one thing — Congress Square Plaza," said Chris Hall, chief of the Portland Regional Chamber. "We've got a failed urban space at the heart of the city."

Supporters and opponents have dotted Portland with signs expressing both perspectives on the referendum. It's the latest in a long line of causes to take root in Portland, a city of 66,000 residents that has been a hotbed for activism in recent years on issues such as marijuana legalization, gay rights and same-sex marriage and the rights of homeless people.

Portland has many parks that date to the 19th century. Congress Square Plaza housed a coffee shop frequented by drug dealers and prostitutes before federal money helped it become a park in the 1980s. It retains its reputation as an underutilized space.

The City Council voted in September to sell two-thirds of Congress Square Plaza to Columbus, Ohio-based Rockbridge Capital for $523,640. Rockbridge, which owns Harborview Hotel, plans to build a one-story event centre on the site. The remainder would be renovated as park space.

If passed, the referendum would require at least eight of nine City Council members to approve selling any property on the city's land bank list. Properties also could be sold if six councillors approved the sale, provided the proposal receives public support in a municipal election. The new rules would make the land bank list grow from 25 to 60 properties and would apply retroactively to Congress Square Plaza.

"This is one of the more rigorous referendums I've seen in Portland in a long time," supporter John Eder said.

Rejection of the referendum, he said, could "bring an end to the enlightened era of parks."

Jim Cohen, a former Portland mayor and opponent of the referendum, said he also sees the vote as about more than a small park — he believes it's about the city's economic health.

"We don't want to be the kind of city where investment becomes dangerous," Cohen said.

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes


  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.


Make text: Larger | Smaller


Mike O'Shea on win over Alouettes August 22

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • Two Canadian geese perch themselves for a perfect view looking at the surroundings from the top of a railway bridge near Lombard Ave and Waterfront Drive in downtown Winnipeg- Standup photo- May 01, 2012   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)
  • JOE.BRYKSA@FREEPRESS.MB.CA Local-(Standup photo)- Humming Around- A female ruby -throated hummingbird fly's through the bee bomb  flowers Friday at the Assiniboine Park English Garden- Nectar from flowers are their main source of food. Hummingbirds wings can beat as fast as 75x times second. Better get a glimpse of them soon the birds fly far south for the winter - from Mexico to South America- JOE BRYKSA/WINNIPEG FREE PRESS- Sept 10, 2009

View More Gallery Photos


Do high-profile endorsements for political candidates influence your voting decisions?

View Results

View Related Story

Ads by Google