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Portland Art Museum to unveil new plans for Rothko Pavillion expansion


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.

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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 jonathan@bikeportland.org

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