Center for Performing Arts proposal includes new building on SW Main

Posted by on May 23rd, 2011 at 1:53 pm

Concept drawing of proposed new Portland Center for Performing Arts building on SW Main Street at Broadway. (View looking west on SW Main St)

Google Streetview of how it looks now.

The Portland Center for the Performing Arts (PCPA) wants to renovate and possibly expand their facilities on SW Broadway Blvd in downtown Portland. In addition to improvements to the historic Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, one concept under consideration is a new building (in drawing above) that would be located on what is currently a key connection in the bike network — SW Main Street between Broadway and the Park Blocks.

View of SW Main St. from the South Park Blocks.

PCPA director Robyn Williams made a presentation about the proposal during a recent Metro Council worksession.

According to a Metro News article based on that worksession, the Main Street project would close the street “to vehicles” in order to construct a “glass-encased exhibition space between the facilities [the Schnitz and Antoinette Hatfield Hall].”

This raises an important issue: SW Main St. is a key connection in the bikeway network that brings people from the Hawthorne Bridge bikeway to the South Park Blocks and beyond.

The Metro article only mentions maintaining “pedestrian access” and makes no mention of bicycle traffic. Here’s an excerpt of comments from Metro Councilor Barbara Roberts:

“Pedestrian access along Main Street from Broadway to the Park Blocks would be maintained during most hours… There ought to be some way to do the pedestrian walkthrough so that it’s always there, regardless of time of day or night,” she said. “If you want to flare up a concern the community can have a fit about, this might be the fit.”

PCPA director Williams told us this morning that the project (which would cost about $20 million) is still in the “feasibility stage” and that most of their energy is going toward the Schnitzer Hall revamp. That being said, if the PCPA could find the money, a new building on Main St. would very likely become a reality.

“If money was no object,” Williams said via telephone this morning, “I’d love to do something on Main Street.” Williams says a Main Street exhibition hall was on original plans for the Hatfield building and this is simply a “dusting off” of those old plans.

When I shared concerns about bike access, Williams said they weren’t far enough in the process to be sure how or if bicycle traffic would be impacted. She did however, say “That’s a really good point” (she was also quick to point out that many people on the PCPA staff ride bikes).

“This is a good time to have the issue raised with us… I think it’d be wonderfully cool [to maintain the bikeway]… What I want to avoid is becoming a big solid wall.”

Do you ride SW Main Street? Are you concerned about how this project might impact bike access?

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David
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David

I ride this section everyday and having to go around is not my optimal route currently, but it would not be to big of a deal for me to travel to Jefferson via Broadway instead of the riding to and then south on the South Park Blocks. Where it would really cause issues is people trying to head north after traveling west on Main. I avoid cycling on the transit mall as much as possible as it is inconvenient and too busy for most. If the Main connection is blocked I would suspect to see a lot of bikes on the sidewalks of Broadway when they want to head north.

Nick V
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Nick V

Perhaps they could leave the ground floor clear and the new exhibition space would be in the form of a bridge between the two buildings. I’d also like to say that I’m very much in favor of the Arts expanding both physically and financially.

ADJPDX
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ADJPDX

I love the idea of a bridge! I hope the city considers that as an option.

daisy
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daisy

Do not waste one more single dollar even thinking of this. Make do with the facilities already in place. IF there is a true need of such a space there are plenty of car lots around those blocks that could be put to better use.

Byron
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Byron

I ride that section of the street once or twice a month, although I can go to Jefferson to get through. Main is not the best biking street with the 3rd, 4th street fountain that leaves little room for bikes. But putting more bicycles on Broadway is a problem because of the poor bike lane which is narrow and often blocked by cars and taxis at hotels. And going north there is impossible and would force bicycles into turning onto the transit mall which is not a nice area to ride in either.

eli bishop
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eli bishop

i don’t understand why pcpa can make plans to build something that blocks a public street.

was carless
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was carless

Agreed. This should be a nonstarter, considering the city balks at closing SE Ankeny next to the Shanghai Tunnels!

Andrew Seger
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Andrew Seger

Thanks for highlighting this story. It seems to be early enough in the planning process to be easily modified. I’d love to have Main St. closed off to cars. Right now joining up with the broadway bike paths from the Hawthorne Bridge can be a bit tricky. With a building there (or when the gates are closed, as they often are) it’s as simple as staying in the right lane all the way up.

It would be really nice to see the Broadway cycle track extended as well to deal with all the Buses that park in front of the PCPA building and take up the bike lane.

wsbob
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wsbob

I don’t have a lot to contribute about whether or how cycle routes would be affected by this proposed addition. I hope they wouldn’t be negatively affected by such an addition though, because streets like Main St seem to provide very good cycling routes, and ready escapes for cyclists from Broadway.

This is the first time though, that I’ve been aware of the PCPA proposed addition occupying Main St. Glad to hear PCPA is doing well enough to expand, but PCPA doing that by walling off the park, is a really unappealing idea. With this proposed project, blocking off the south wall of the…I think it’s style is Italianate Rococo… Portland Theater, is another downside to the plan.

Something I do remember about plans for Main St between the Portland Theater and the PCPA, was that it originally was supposed to be excluded to cars full time. That plan would have allowed the space to be more aesthetically pleasing and park like. As part of that design version, bikes may have been allowed to pass through…I can’t remember. It definitely seems though, that creating an adequate surface for motor vehicles to drive on, and actually allowing them to use Main St, has not been any benefit to the beauty of this space.

Steve B
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I am curious about how any proposal to build a private building on a public right of way would work in Portland. Are there other examples we could look at?

How about starting with a carfree Main Street, seeing how it goes, and work from there? Maintaining bike and ped access here while permanently closing the street to vehicle traffic would be a creative step towards transforming this space without needing a large investment or precluding public access.

Andrew Seger
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Andrew Seger

PCPA is owned by the city of Portland and operated by Metro. And it has the support of many of the rich donors/prominent citizens of the city. hence the carte blanche to do whatever. This would be funded with donations, as far as I can tell, much like the last renovation of the Schnitz.

Rol
Guest

Biking is the only thing I use that particular piece of real estate for. I do like the “bridge” idea though (Nick V above). Actually that’s a great opportunity for PCPA. With just a little bit of extra engineering, they can make a more dramatic architectural statement, “building a bridge” between the older and newer parts of their history and preserving the connectivity of the street.

dwainedibbly
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dwainedibbly

I live nearby & ride through there all the time. If they want to build a 2nd story bridge & close the road to motor vehicles, fine. Or, they can let us ride bikes through the building. Gangway! Otherwise I’m against this.

The more I think about the bridge, the more I like it.

As it is now, that block is sometimes closed for events.

Doug Klotz
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Doug Klotz

There is an instructive precedent for closing a public street in downtown (technically “vacating” it), and maintaining public access. It is SW Ankeny between Fifth and Sixth. That’s a street? Yes, technically, as a condition of blocking the street with a building, US Bank is required to allow pedestrians to walk through the building at all hours of the day or night. Try it sometime! They’ll let you through.

But, does the general public know this? No. There are no signs, and for all intents it looks like a private building. So how many actually walk through there? And if you walk there, are you allowed to do the sort of things you could do on a public street, like carry a protest sign? I bet not. The “easement” is probably recorded as access is allowed only to walk through. No photography, no carrying signs, etc.

I’m betting this is what PCPA had in mind for SW Main. As a pedestrian, you’d have to navigate through closed doors, which might have automatic openers (US Bank’s do not). As a bicyclist you might not even be allowed, and if you were, you’d have to dismount, navigate the doors, walk around the “exhibits”, and maybe even climb some stairs!

It seems to me the only thing that should be allowed is a “skybridge”. Even those are actually discouraged downtown, as they take activity away from the street. The Pioneer Place bridges were supposed to be the last ones allowed. Unless the Portland Plan changes things, the city tries to preserve our famous 200 foot grid of streets for all to use. I don’t see how this building could be allowed.

was carless
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was carless

Completely agree.

Fascinating story about Big Pink, tho. I had no idea thats how they got the extra large block.

wsbob
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wsbob

From the Metro news article ‘Possible renovations for Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall highlighted at worksession’ maus provided a link to, a number of important bits of info are provided. Check out the following excerpt:

“… Karl Schulz, a consultant who worked on the renovation and expansion, said the glass-encased project was important to create a visual connection between the South Park Blocks and Broadway.

“It would help activate this area and create an iconic imagery from Broadway,” he said. “This design… would create a lantern effect that people would be drawn to from the park.” …”

Rather than a visual connection, the glass encased project would present an illuminated glass barrier to Broadway from the South Park Blocks. The current view of Main St from the park blocks already provides quite a nice visual connection to Broadway. It could be better by finding some way to not have to devote so much of Main St’s space to a road for motor vehicle travel.

The article also points out that expansion of lobbies and more restrooms are among the reasons PCPA wants to build on this section of Main St. The arts organization figures to spend $20 million on this ‘sparkly thing’.

“… “There’s some feeling on the funders side that it is a bright, sparkly thing that people love to donate to, as opposed to a fix-it.” …” Robyn Williams, Director of PCPA

There’s some appeal to a skybridge rather than a ground level building. There’s strong reasons though, that Portland doesn’t have more of them. Years back, there was a trend in certain cities to use skybridges to overcome a variety of problems, traffic congestion being one of them. Eventually though, realization came about that skybridges were effectively removing people from the street, in essence, contributing to a deactivation (rather than the activation that consultant Karl Schulz thinks of.) of the street level of urban downtowns.

elle
Guest
elle

This is a horrible idea. PCPA is a dinosaur arts venue. Very few of the city’s leading groups perform there (the main building – not the Schnitz). Portland Center Stage left there. They’re also in bed with Ticketmaster. If PCPA is feeling flush with cash, they should spend it on bringing better artists to perform there, and pay local artists more. More bricks and mortar is not the answer to any problem they may be having. And any structure that closes off a key outdoor corridor should be a no go.

eli bishop
Guest
eli bishop

yes, even beyond the access issue, which is considerable, i just find this proposal… ugly. skybridge if they must, but leave the street open!