Gravel - Cycle Oregon

Portland Art Museum to unveil new plans for Rothko Pavillion expansion

Posted by on November 9th, 2017 at 11:43 am

Current view of Madison Plaza with green line showing the public easement.

After it faced stiff opposition at a City Council hearing in April, the Portland Art Museum has revised plans for their $50 million Rothko Pavillion expansion.

Seven months later they’re ready to share a new one.

At issue is how the plans will impact Madision Plaza, a public easement between existing museum buildings. Madison Plaza is considered an important link in downtown bicycling and walking connectivity.

Earlier this year, PAM asked the City of Portland to amend the existing easement for SW Madison Street between Park and 10th. Initial plans for the new pavillion would have created a new structure to display art, host events, and serve as the museum’s main entrance. The pavillion would be open to the public for free, but access would be limited to museum hours (10:00 am to 5:00 pm Sunday through Wednesday and 10:00 to 8:00 pm Thursday and Friday) and people riding bicycles or walking dogs would be completely prohibited.

That plan proved highly controversial. Following a large outcry from nearby residents and other people who use the plaza, PAM put the plans on hold.


PAM Executive Director Brian Ferriso is on the agenda of the November 14th Portland Bureau of Transportation Bicycle Advisory Committee meeting. He’s expected to share a “modified proposal” that will go before City Council (tentatively) on December 6th at 2:00 pm on December 7th.

We’ve reached out to several sources at PAM and elsewhere for a copy of the new plan, but have yet to hear back.

Other sources we’ve heard from are already mobilizing opposition to the new plan.

Portlander Tim Davis posted on the Bike Loud PDX Facebook page that PAM has been in negotiation with the Portland Commission on Disabilities, “But the best we can hope for right now is for pedestrians to be able to cut through the Portland Art Museum property for free only during business hours — and that cyclists would never be allowed such access. This is absolutely ridiculous.”

It’s difficult to envision how the museum could create a continuous structure that would also allow for people to walk and bike through it 24/7. The museum’s Chief Advancement Officer JS May (who also happens to be board president of Cycle Oregon) told Council in April that, “Leaving an 8-10 foot wide open-air easement between the buildings would result in a pavillion that doesn’t solve the problem of connectivity between our two buildings that it’s design to address.” He also acknowledged the impacts the new pavillion would have: “There are definitely people who will be inconvenienced by the pavillion in the hours it is closed, we can’t deny that. The fundamental question is: Is the greater good of the city served by the pavillion being a destination for people and a public space, or is that not the case?”

“But there is a public space there now which is really lovely,” replied an unimpressed Commissioner Amanda Fritz.

Hopefully the new plans can improve the flow of the museum, without stopping the flow of people who use the existing plaza.

PAM will need three votes to get their ordinance passed. We hope to get a look at the new plans soon. Stay tuned.

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and

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NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

  • CaptainKarma November 9, 2017 at 11:48 am

    Public space lost is never returned.

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    • rick November 10, 2017 at 1:27 pm

      That has been the case with many poorly-maintained stairs in the old-town parts of the inner West Hills neighborhoods. The city didn’t keep extensive records of the stairs and many have been lost. One was just removed within the past two years near the Vista Bridge.

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  • Erleichda November 9, 2017 at 11:49 am

    Good grief. Bike a block already.

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    • dan November 9, 2017 at 11:54 am

      If you think about it, it’s actually 3 blocks. And we might as well say “Good grief. Are they afraid their visitors will melt if they walk outside? ”

      Don’t know why they don’t just elevate the whole plaza to the same level as the entrance to the cinema, leaving open space below. Done! Can I have my architecture license now? 😉

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      • bjorn November 9, 2017 at 12:40 pm

        I think they are probably concerned about providing any covered area that would be accessible at night because they realize that in the current climate it would be taken over by aggressive people who tend to leave behind a lot of garbage. Any plan to provide a pass thru is going to have to address the fact that it won’t feel safe to use if it turns into a springwater corridor type homeless encampment at night.

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        • Buzz November 9, 2017 at 1:18 pm

          That’s what they’ve got Security for, I’m sure they are already dealing with this on their property on a routine basis even without any new structures.

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          • Scott Mizée November 9, 2017 at 2:03 pm

            Exactly, Buzz.

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          • Bjorn November 9, 2017 at 4:53 pm

            Does the Art Museum currently have 24/7 security for their grounds? Even if did if they allow people to pass through the space will they have difficulty keeping people from taking it over just like sit/lie on the sidewalks. I agree that a solution that allows continued access should be found, just pointing out that just because they maintain a ROW through there doesn’t mean it will be usable if it is allowed to be taken over.

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        • KTaylor November 9, 2017 at 5:28 pm

          I think this is right on the money, unfortunately. We don’t get to have nice public amenities here.

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          • Scott Mizée - Friends of Willamette Blvd November 9, 2017 at 5:44 pm

            KTatlor: I don’t understand what you are saying. _what_ are you referring to that is “right on the money?”
            -thanks in advance for the clarification.

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            • Ktaylor November 9, 2017 at 6:02 pm

              I just meant that I think bjorn’s observation is correct.

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              • Scott Mizée Friends of Willamette Blvd November 9, 2017 at 6:03 pm

                ah! yes. got it. Thanks! Yes!

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              • rachel b November 9, 2017 at 11:58 pm

                I’m with bjorn and Katie. Can’t imagine this public space won’t go the way of practically all our other public spaces (meaning south). Can’t fault the museum for initially trying to sidestep the problem. I’m sure they’d have been happy to keep it public space from the beginning if we all treated public spaces like we did here even as little as 15 years ago… which we demonstrably do not, now.

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    • Chris I November 9, 2017 at 12:49 pm

      You are assuming that everyone is riding a bike?

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    • rick November 10, 2017 at 1:25 pm

      How about the people with disabilities? People with bad eyesight? Blind? Involved in a previous hit-and-run?

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    • Z00keeper November 15, 2017 at 11:11 am

      Why is it always on pedestrians/bikes to accommodate development on not the other way around? The space in question is ALREADY a public gift on the condition that, “the vacated street will not be used for any purpose other than an open mall.” Portland should be encouraging more public spaces, not closing them off.

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  • Scott Mizée Friends of Willamette Blvd November 9, 2017 at 12:17 pm

    Ha ha! I like your style, Dan. Sign me up for a free architecture license too, while you are at it! 🙂

    Now that I work a block away from this, and it has the nearest BIKEYTOWN station in front of it, I find myself using the plaza to get to and from the station. Sometimes walking, sometimes biking. It would be a shame if PAM was not able to let people on bicycles ride through there. Can someone please remind me why PAM thinks bicycles or people with dogs should not be allowed in this public plaza anymore?

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  • catherine feta cheese November 9, 2017 at 12:18 pm

    A fascinating documentary, “The New Rijksmuseum” about renovation of the famous museum in Amsterdam, includes much content about the need to preserve a bicycle right of way through the building. The film is available on DVD at Multnomah County Library.

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  • Scott Mizée Friends of Willamette Blvd November 9, 2017 at 12:19 pm

    Interesting, seemingly ironic statement on their website: “The Portland Art Museum and its donors are committed to making the Museum a resource for all. Learn about our Admission Access Programs.”

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  • Jim Lee November 9, 2017 at 12:26 pm

    The “pavilion” would occupy a space between two unrelated buildings, the mediocre Masonic Temple to the north and Pietro Belluschi’s superb Portland Art Museum to the south.

    It would be flagrantly inartistic to place the main entrance to the museum to the side of that building in any case.

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  • maccoinnich November 9, 2017 at 12:26 pm

    I know this isn’t a popular opinion here, but I don’t think the loss of street connectivity in this location is that big of a deal. It’s not a major bike route and the east-west pedestrian alignment ends one block further west. Given the choice between the existing plaza and a great expansion of the museum I’d prefer the latter.

    HOWEVER, recognizing that other people feel differently, and that the museum could be getting a piece of land that was once public right-of-way, I wonder if they could make some good faith effort to improve bicycle / pedestrian in the area. The Central City 2035 plan proposes to upgrade the bicycle facilities on SW Jefferson and add them to SW Columbia. Maybe the museum could partner with the city to build a protected bike lane on a section of Jefferson, which would make it easier to cycle west and also easier to cross the often busy street on foot.

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    • Scott Mizée Friends of Willamette Blvd November 9, 2017 at 12:33 pm

      Good points. I am still wondering why a good design cannot include a bicycle and pedestrian pass through, like other great museums of the world.

      I’m no expert on this site or project, but it seems that the designers overlooked this opportunity. If they did not overlook it, I’d like to know their design justification:

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    • John Liu
      John Liu November 9, 2017 at 10:15 pm

      I disagree that this is considered an “important link” for downtown walking and cycling. That’s hyperbole. It is a narrow cut-through that saves exactly one block of walking.

      It would be nice to find a way to accommodate both the cut-through and the museum’s expansion. But including a 24/7 route through a museum exhibition area is tricky. Interested to see what PAM has come up with.

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      • Douglas K November 10, 2017 at 8:45 am

        Including a 24/7 route through a museum exhibition area is no trickier than including a 24/7 route through a library. The Allen Library at University of Washington preserved an open 24/7 walkway right through the ground floor of the library while maintaining access through the second and third floors of the library. It isn’t a ground-breaking concept.

        Google maps street view:,-122.3066755,3a,75y,239.41h,110.5t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1sl6TK0L4UrSExeuGrLqmopw!2e0!7i13312!8i6656

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      • Charley November 10, 2017 at 9:30 am

        That’s just wrong. It’s not “one block of walking.” I work down there and walk through it from time to time: the same route would take three blocks of walking, not one, if the right of way was blocked.

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        • Jonathan Radmacher November 10, 2017 at 11:01 am

          It’s two extra blocks only if your destination is along Madison; if it’s any other street, there is no additional distance to be traveled.

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        • Spiffy November 10, 2017 at 2:57 pm

          and per the example of a bus stop every 2 blocks I think Portland has a 2-block walking limit… 3 blocks is totally unacceptable…

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          • John Liu
            John Liu November 11, 2017 at 5:36 am

            If you are starting on SW 10th exactly halfway between SW Jefferson and SW Main, and you want to get to SW Park/SW Madison, then you’ll have to walk around the museum grounds not through them. But how did you get to that starting point? You originally came from either SW 10th/SW Jefferson or from SW 10th/SW Main. From either of those original points, there is no additional distance required to get to SW Park/SW Madison, whether you walk around or through the museum grounds. Look at a map of this isn’t clear.

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            • Scott Mizée November 11, 2017 at 9:16 am

              John, I’m semi ok with your argument that it is not an important link based on distance (semi…not fully) I think that perhaps the more important factor here is the QUALITY of the space and the environment it provides in the city. I would actually choose to go OUT of my way to walk through this space in order to avoid walking on Taylor or one of the streets laden with cars.

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  • Kittens November 9, 2017 at 12:59 pm

    Another ironic failure of the imagination at PAM.

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  • KTaylor November 9, 2017 at 5:25 pm

    Wow – Amanda Fritz actually said something I agree with!

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  • KTaylor November 9, 2017 at 5:29 pm

    Also, I don’t think PAM is giving enough credit to what a rare amenity this plaza and the cut-through paths in the adjoining two blocks are in conjunction with the park blocks. It’s one of the few places in the city where pedestrians can travel a good distance without interacting with cars at all. There’s a reason people are so emotional about this.

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  • Bill Stites November 9, 2017 at 5:48 pm

    This area is the continuation of a public street. I strongly agree with those who wish to keep it open space, and open access.

    I wish the museum personnel could see how valuable the open space is to the museum itself, asis. Seriously, they already control a lot of that square footage.
    To even say that a new, closed structure serves the greater good of the city is beyond ridiculous.

    It is these kinds of proposals that deteriorate the best qualities of our city. Please, City Council, support citizen access to public spaces … I can’t believe I have to write that!

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  • Todd Boulanger November 9, 2017 at 7:08 pm

    Jonathan – please check the PAM hours of operation (and path closure) listed above…I think PAM has hours on Saturday but closed Monday.

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  • Douglas K November 9, 2017 at 7:29 pm

    “Leaving an 8-10 foot wide open-air easement between the buildings would result in a pavilion that doesn’t solve the problem of connectivity between our two buildings that it’s design to address.”

    I don’t see the problem. Connect the buildings at the basement level, second floor and third floor. Lack of a first floor connection between the two buildings would be at worst a minor inconvenience to museum visitors.

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    • Gary B November 10, 2017 at 9:28 am

      It’s ironic isn’t it? The connection they want is the most convenient–at ground level. And they believe that convenience is essential to this project serving its purpose. And yet those that would have to travel the extra 3 blocks by losing their route are just slightly inconvenienced and should get over it.

      There’s more to both sides than just the number of steps/pedals saved. There’s a much larger value to the feeling of connectivity. Obviously they recognize that for their patrons, so it’s astonishing that they’re so cavalier about taking it away from others.

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  • Jason H November 9, 2017 at 11:15 pm

    No Mr. May your “public good” is absolutely NOT worth it for me and seeing as this is Phase 3 of your grab of MY public space that began with the extraordinary easement given to PAM by the city to close off SW Madison St. in 1968 to create the public plaza. Back then the easement was specifically given with the understanding that pedestrian and bicyclist access would be permanently maintained. This was already diluted with the gates which you put up in the 1980’s for “security” and now you want to make it museum hours only walk through access in your atrium and ticket hall? Go to **** Mr May. I’m a public citizen and I demand my rights back to traverse public space how and when I wish. If not, I nor anyone I can inform will ever visit or support PAM again.

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  • cam November 10, 2017 at 10:37 am

    Douglas K
    “Leaving an 8-10 foot wide open-air easement between the buildings would result in a pavilion that doesn’t solve the problem of connectivity between our two buildings that it’s design to address.”
    I don’t see the problem. Connect the buildings at the basement level, second floor and third floor. Lack of a first floor connection between the two buildings would be at worst a minor inconvenience to museum visitors.
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    There already is a basement connection. It’s a spacious connection with exhibits, the entrance to the theater, and access to the toilets.

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    • Douglas K November 10, 2017 at 10:46 pm

      Yes, there’s a basement connection. It’s really inconvenient for a visitor, since you need to go all the way down there to get to the adjacent building, and the elevators are SLOW. A second or third floor connection (or both) would be really useful. But get that in place, and there’s no need to connect the two buildings at street level.

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  • rick November 10, 2017 at 1:22 pm

    Save Madison Street !

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  • osmill November 10, 2017 at 1:42 pm

    Jonathan, I don’t think that this statement in your article is accurate: “The pavillion [sic] would be open to the public for free.” The Oregon Live article from May indicates that there will be “an 8-foot easement within the building,” which means a walkway for passing through. That is very different from the pavilion being open to the public.

    Also, that article indicates that the Madison Street vacation that happened in 1968 was to allow the area to be used for an outdoor sculpture display, with a pedestrian passageway to remain open. The architectural renderings show the current sculptures gone, apparently moved to the roof or inside where they will only be accessible (or even visible, probably) to paying museum visitors. The existing sculpture plaza is replaced with a mostly empty plaza with a few tables. Bye-bye public sculpture garden… (This has been a progressive privatization of public space.)

    (The architecture firm’s renderings are available at

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  • Todd Boulanger November 10, 2017 at 8:22 pm

    It will be interesting as to what “new” proposal they have after sitting on it for a year…nothing on their website seems to telegraph a major change….

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  • rick November 15, 2017 at 8:26 am

    Stop blocking public gathering places !

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  • LauraOFoster December 7, 2017 at 10:19 am

    My testimony for today’s meeting before the commissioners vote. In short: A big “No” to taking of public rights of way.

    Hello, my name is Laura O. Foster. I’m the author of seven guidebooks about exploring Portland and nearby communities on foot. My books include Portland Hill Walks, The Portland Stairs Book, Portland City Walks, and Walk There! I lead urban walking tours for the Portland Bureau of Transportation, nonprofits and other entities.

    The PAM is a beloved institution, but it is just one of many places that make Portland a creative mecca, and a destination for urban explorers. Our urban streets are one of our city’s greatest treasures: on them, the city and its citizens display our creativity.

    These common spaces—our streets—bind us. Whether we’re liberal or conservative, they are, like the Benson bubblers or our many neighborhood parks, part of our beloved civic heritage. We, the citizens of this generation, are stewards of these spaces for the generations that follow.

    Our beloved streets, in short, are not up for grabs by the nearest cultural institution.

    The PAM’s stated intention to seize this common space seems unthinkable to me. The glass walls do not invite passage; they convey privilege. They are not open 24/7, as any city street is; they have walls and doors, two things which, by definition, denote exclusivity.

    Other cities provide excellent examples that could be adapted to the site, to allow unimpeded grade-level passage.

    Can you imagine a visitor to Portland, or a person with a handicap, or a parent pushing a stroller laden with kid and gear, seeing this glass wall, from Park or 10th? Rather than go investigate to see if the passage is free and flows through, they would just walk around. The perception that walls and doors give is private property—the very opposite of a public space.

    I urge you to hear Portlanders in our opposition to this taking of a public right-of-way.

    Thank you,

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  • Scott Mizée - Friends of Willamette Blvd December 7, 2017 at 10:28 am

    Thank You, Laura!

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