The Friends of Congress Square Park and Southwest Airlines gathered to celebrate the transformation of Congress Square Park from what many deemed a derelict space to a downtown hot spot.
Earlier this spring, the Friends of Congress Square Park received a Southwest Airlines Heart of the Community grant to support the revitalization of the park through a community process called placemaking.
Over the past two decades, the once vibrant Congress Square Park deteriorated as funding for the park was cut. As a result, programming was abandoned and the infrastructure began to fall into disrepair. A process to revitalize the park was delayed by a City Council vote in 2013 to sell the park to the neighboring Westin hotel.
“In the end, the park is better off for it,” said Jamie Parker, former chair of the Parks Commission, referring to the controversial vote and the lawsuit and referendum that followed to save the park. “Almost losing something is a way to appreciate it anew.”
Working with lead nonprofit partner, Project for Public Spaces (PPS), the Friends of Congress Square Park have secured many new physical amenities that will be used for an active programming schedule.
To launch the project a full day of events was scheduled including activities such as Tai Chi in the morning, a press conference, performances by the Polaroid Garden Jazz Band, Argentine Tango with the dancers of PortTango, children’s activities with the Children’s Museum and Oak Street Studios, and African Drum and Dance.
“There is a limit to what city’s can and cannot do,” said Mayor Mike Brennan at the press conference. “Partnerships between the public and private sectors, and groups like the Friends of Congress Square, make it possible.”
Mayor Brennan voted to sell the park in September 2013. At the press conference he said that he was committed to working with the community and the Friends groups to transform the park into “a jewel of Portland.”