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Sunday, September 24, 2006


In the ever-expanding comics section of The Oregonian, Randy Gragg, the architects' apologist, today brings forth a three-part onanistic outpouring over the new Gerding Theater -- the multi-million-dollar monument to pretension currently being made out of Portland's once-funky old Armory in the Pearl District. It's recycled! It's sustainable! Salmon-friendly!

When the snake oil salesmen shout that loudly, check your wallet.

Meanwhile, over on the ever-contracting reality pages of the paper, we hear about the money side. That underachieving Portland theater troupe that borrowed a bunch of money, with the city's credit, on the premise that it would raise funds for the theater construction on its own? Well, golly, it's coming up a little short. But hang in there, taxpayers -- they'll raise enough to pay those loans off. They're "optimistic."

One thing I'll say for the Gerding Theater. It's in the right place. Built on a pretext while everybody winked, way in the red before it even opens, with the Family of Funds operating in the shadows and the city's taxpayers holding the bag -- how perfectly Pearl. I hope there's going to be a totem pole outside.

Comments (27)

Pity the poor 1923 Palladian-styled Shriner's Hospital at Northeast
82nd Avenue and Sandy Boulevard, which fell, with city funding, to an
affordable housing project.

Stupid poor people.

Maybe they should turn it into an all nude review. That should help make up the loss and name it after some local politician.

Notice there's no mention of what's going to happen to the Performing Arts Center, which is losing their largest resident theater company. I don't know what kind of hit the Center will take, but it can't be good.

We've got tickets for West Side Story --I'm hoping to engage my 15 year old the way I got blown away so many years ago when I was a teenager at my first play, the original West Side Story-- but these are NOT cheap tickets.

Nothing, too, in the article about how Gerding managed to "unload" what was considered a white elephant onto Portland Center Stage...and then donated enough, I guess, to get his name on the place.

I hope the thing works...but using "depressed neighborhood" money in the Pearl has a certain off-key ring to it. Then again,I'm all for saving buildings when we can. I'm just sorry we lost the brewery in the first place.

Gee, what a surprise.

I was at the city council hearing concerning The Armory. There were several people and the League of Women Voters who gave thoughtful analysis on how it was a very "shakey deal", and unfairly put the burden on the taxpayers; and how it was very unfair to all the other metro theater groups who have to compete again this large subsidy. Mayor Katz just blew it off. A few commissioners asked some pointed questions to look good. But again the debt service on the loan was never considered. Business as usual, and I hope things go well because to me it is another PGE deal where the taxpayers pay, and then pay again for a $50 dollar ticket.

Sam has been pushing this thing thru from the beginning. Of course, PCS is taking on a $35M debt and hoping to reduce it with contributions which are already short.

Sorry, I forgot, PCS has never done better than barely break even. No need to worry - As Mr Bog noticed, CoP guarantees the mortgage for PCS. Can you say PGE Park part deux?

Sam the Tram -- what a piece of work.

Don't for get Vera- "Queen of Urban Renewal". Thanks for leaving P-town in such a f***ed up mess- all in your image, of course.

Now, now. We didn't let her cover the freeway for Homer Williams condos or put tolls on the Willamette River bridges.

Here's scary - Sam had lunch with Hank Ashforth last week. And Hank picked him up to talk about freeway loops.

What a bunch of crybabies. I suppose tearing down the armory and putting a surface parking lot there is what you all would want. Sort of a "reverse Pioneer Place?"

Matilda, I think that most bloggers are not saying they want to "tear down the armory and put in a surface parking lot"; but are saying that if an idea like making the armory into a theatre, then it should be accomplished on its own merits and not burden the taxpayers. And why should one theatre organization compete against all the others unfairly.

It is like the Convention Hotel issue, other Hotel ownerships rightfully are citing the "unfair competition" of public subsidy for one hotel competing against others.

And this same analogy applies to area health clubs having to compete against the OHSU health club in North Macadam, besides being tax exempt, has several millions of dollars of tax subsidies for the building.

OK, Lee, I'll accept what you say. The problem is that converting the armory to a theater on a private-sector basis doesn't pencil out. So no subsidy, no theater.

And, frankly, converting the armory to any other use in its existing form probably doesn't pencil out either.

Which means that, leaving the site to the tender mercies of the private sector, the armory would have most likely been torn down and replaced with something else.

Based upon what is going in around it, that "something else" would have been another 10-story or so building. In the Pearl District. Which would have been the subject of another jeremiad on this site and elsewhere. "We're tearing down another part of our history to house ignorant Californians!"

The answer to that, of course, is that the zoning for the site is all wrong - there should be a three-story height limit, or whatever. Which means the armory would just sit there as an eyesore until the city condemned it, the owner tore it down, and we'd have a surface parking lot for a while until somebody decided to do something else with it.

So the city's actions, in this context, are quite logical, and in most places would be considered to be proactive, progressive, and wise. But not here, apparently.

It is a shame that the old Shriner's hospital had to be torn down but the Senior living/affordable housing that was put in its place is a vast improvement over the abandoned hulk the old hospital became. All the cheap shots at Gragg miss the point of not enough attention being paid to important historic sites outside of the central city until it is too late.

Matilda makes some good points but can Portland sustain another expensive public funded venue for live Theatre? Perhaps they should hold on to it for it's orginal purpose as a fortress to hold militia during times of civil upheaval which in Portland may just be around the corner.

Matilda- You must fairly new to Portland, or you'd realize that the Armory project was just one in a long long line of tax-dollar/urban renewal subsidy giveaways that end up draining the General Fund of money needed for infrastructure (schools, libraries, roads, police officers (with updated training) and so on.

Many of us who post here have watched this "developer welfare" going on for decades now, and as a result of these financial "shenanigans" the taxpayers of Portland face future decades of watching their tax dollars disappear into a black hole. Why should our tax dollars make already wealthy developers even wealthier while we scramble to keep our schools open, etc. We are not necessarily against developement, but it should be done with the developers money, not ours.

"The problem is that converting the armory to a theater on a private-sector basis doesn't pencil out. So no subsidy, no theater. "

Wow...then here's an earthshaker- no f'in theater! You really think if the private sector cant make it work the city can?
I cant understand the thought process that comes to the conclusion that if the private sector cant make something "pencil out" then throwing taxpayer money at it will. No wonder there is "no money for schools" and keeping prisoners in jail. Next time a repeat offender robs someone or worse, just remember, we have a theater.

sorry, make that another theater

Well Jon, as long as you are consistent, we can disagree honestly. If you wouldn't have minded the Armory being replaced by either a 10-story Pearl-ish building or a surface parking lot, then we can agree to disagree.

If however, you are someone who would be throwing brickbats at the city for allowing "yet another" piece of Portland's landmark heritage to be destroyed, then a pox on your hypocrisy, I say!

The armory could have been turned into many other things. A new home for Saturday Market? A (gasp) social services center? Affordable housing? A public rec center? All too real for Vera and Erik.

So we go in hock for the theater group -- again. I guess the Performing Arts Center we built for them wasn't good enough.

If all the elitist whiners want their theater, then they should pay for it. I dont care if the tickets are $300...if thats what it takes to keep it open, suck it up.

Why is the Armory a landmark piece of history? We have so many condos with huge tax breaks already (look up 621 NW 11th on, we could keep doing this until everything built before 1945 is off the tax rolls.

My issue is that this is the reasoning we used to throw $35M at PGE Park.

Maybe another condo or parking lot is a better use. As long as we don't guarantee to spend $35M doing it, fine. Especially when PCS already had a very serviceable home, the Newmark. Since when is too big a reason to leave a space when the smaller space is more expensive?

How about a compromise and make it mixed use? The fortress like exterior would make a great prison, but that wouldn't go over well with the neighborhood so make it a prison/theatre. Half of it will hold inmates and the other half will be devoted to theatre and art galleries performed and produced exclusively by the inmates while doing time. Think of the effect of a stage where iron bars seperate the actors from the audience creating both security and atmosphere. Theatre and performing is very theraputic as well as educational and the performances could be free to the public. I mean West Side Story performed by guys from real gangs now that would be edgy, very avant garde.

Theatre and performing is very theraputic as well as educational and the performances could be free to the public.

You may recall the sixties play by Peter Weiss: "The Persecution and Assasination of Jean Paul Marat as Performed by the Inmates of the Asylum of Charenton under the Direction of the Marquis de Sade. (aka "Marat/Sade")

Inmates of an asylum directed in theater productions...which really happened too.

Just a thought...

That's where I came up with the idea for the bars seperating the stage from the audience.

Tom and Frank:

I love the idea. Now THAT is creativity.

I can see subsidies for historic preservation-and the arts for that matter-but when we have fiascos like SOWHAT and the tram (rim shot) that are supposedly for these purposes, it kind of discredits the whole concept. This is unfortunate and not, I think, what some planners intended.

Also discredited by the above projects is the idea of rational economic development.


Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Tragicomedy:

» Recycling Sunday's fairy tale from Jack Bog's Blog
Drop what you're doing. You absolutely have to read this: a Q&A between Randy Gragg of The Oregonian and Pearl District developer Bob Gerding. It's another truly memorable piece of journalism -- so patently sycophantic that it borders on the obscene. T... [Read More]


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