The city picked the artist who will help transform Congress Square

Good evening from the BDN Portland office on Congress Street. Who wants news?

What we’re talking about

A New York City artist has been awarded $75,000 to create an art installation in Congress Square as part of a larger push to improve the public space that Portlanders blocked the city government from selling in 2013.

Artist Sarah Sze was selected from a pool of 97 applicants and five finalists by a committee composed of members of the Portland arts community. She will work in collaboration with design firm Wallace Roberts & Todd to develop a permanent piece of art for the square.

Sze, whose work has been displayed in outdoor exhibitions around the world, including one at New York’s High Line park, was chosen for “her use of color, mixed materials and scale, expertise in both two and three-dimensional artwork, and her ability to create work that combines elements of intimacy and discovery,” and will be paid out of the Portland Public Art Committee budget, city spokeswoman Jessica Grondin said.

“We were impressed with Sarah Sze’s point of view, her ability to analyze the site, her collaborative spirit, and of course her creativity and aesthetic,” committee member Pandora LaCasse said in a statement.

The selection of Sze is the latest step in an initiative that has turned around the once run-down public space, which the City Council voted to sell in part to RockBridge Capital LLC for $543,000 as part of the renovation of the Westin Harborview hotel three years ago, only to have the sale blocked by referendum. After the political sparring with city government, nonprofit Friends of Congress Square Park began to clean up the 14,500-square-foot space, which now has colorful tables and chairs and hosts a variety of cultural events.

Last year the nonprofit received a $100,000 grant from Southwest Airlines and Project for Public Spaces to continue its improvements of the square. The city is working with both Friends of Congress Square and the Public Art Committee to redevelop Congress Square and the area around the intersection of High and Congress streets. There is money available in the city budget for this planning stage, though the overall development is not yet funded.

The city “anticipates the project, if approved for implementation, will require significant fundraising efforts,” Grondin said. “The city is also pursuing grant opportunities to fund the endeavor.” — Jake Bleiberg


Here’s the big story of the day/year — The BDN’s Nick Sambides Jr. broke a major development in a story he has been following for years:

The company owned by the family of Roxanne Quimby transferred more than 87,000 acres to the federal government on Tuesday, strongly indicating a North Woods national monument will soon be designated by President Barack Obama. …

Obama’s executive order creating the monument is expected to bring many new jobs to the Katahdin region, an area decimated by the collapse of the paper industry. The monument designation also will help millionaire Quimby realize her dream to leave a legacy of land available for public use that could one day become a national park.

Read the full story here.

In case you haven’t been following this issue closely for the past 22 years, here’s a primer on the events leading up to today’s news.

And here’s a timeline of Quimby’s effort to bring another national park to Maine.

With more than 600 housing units proposed in Westbook, some residents call for a moratorium on new construction  — Megan Doyle of the Press Herald reports on the pushback from some residents who want the City Council to order a pause on new developments for about six months. Megan reports:

Residents asked city officials to use that time to revamp the city’s land use ordinance, increase the minimum lot size for new homes and enact a process for collecting impact fees from developers. In particular, they worried about the stress new construction would put on the sewer system, roads and schools in Westbrook. 

“The good news is your pro-growth strategies are working,” said Flynn Ross, who lives on Middle Street. “The concern is they are working a little too well.”

Why evicting Portland’s ‘Tent City’ inhabitants solves nothing — BDN Portland blogger Chris Shorr writes: “ [I]t doesn’t matter how many times we try to brush the realities of homelessness under the rug, it doesn’t matter how many encampments are cleared out, it doesn’t matter how many broken heart emojis we share the story on Facebook with — Portland’s homelessness problems are here to stay.”

Context: Chris is referring to this story we broke the week before last.

From the celebrity watch desk — While the rest of the region was busy looking for the Westbrook snake, a BDN Portland spy (my wife) spotted “Olive Kitteridge” actress Frances McDormand and her husband, director Joel Cohen, perusing the aisles at Whole Foods this morning.

The Big Idea

“What life is really like in ‘America’s worst place to live’” — A Washington Post writer who previously declared a Minnesota county America’s worst place — based on a federal government index of natural beauty — since has moved there with his family. Here’s what he has learned about what we lose when we put too much stock in data:

“As somebody whose job is to write about ‘data’ writ large, I’m a big believer in its power — better living through quantification. But my relocation to Red Lake Falls [in Minnesota] has been a humbling reminder of the limitations of numbers. It has opened my eyes to all of the things that get lost when you abstract people, places and points in time down to a single number on a computer screen.”

Got any interesting story ideas, suggestions or links to share? Email Dan MacLeod at, or tweet @dsmacleod.

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Dan MacLeod

About Dan MacLeod

Dan MacLeod is the managing editor of the Bangor Daily News. He's an Orland native who moved to Portland in 2002 and now lives in Unity. He's been a journalist since 2008, and previously worked for the New York Post and the Brooklyn Paper.