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PAM puts a hole in the wall

The art museum begins construction on a new loading dock, precursor to the long-awaited Rothko Pavilion expansion.

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Design rendering of the new loading dock on Southwest Jefferson Street. Project rendering by Hennebery Eddy Architects and Vinci Hamp Architects.

If you’re walking or driving around downtown Portland and see a big gash along the Southwest Jefferson Street wall of the Portland Art Museum, don’t panic: It’s there by design.

The museum has begun work on its new loading dock, which will replace shipments being dropped off or taken out from the dock’s current location on the plaza on Southwest Park Avenue separating the museum’s north and south buildings. Once the project’s done, trucks will enter the museum via Jefferson and drive straight through, exiting onto Southwest 10th Avenue at the back of the museum’s original main building. Museum officials expect the project to be completed by the end of the 2023 calendar year, and the museum will remain open on its regular hours throughout construction.

The loading dock project is a precursor to moving ahead with the museum’s ambitious Rothko Pavilion plan, which will connect the two buildings with a glassed-in structure across the current plaza, expanding gallery space and more importantly, allowing for much more logical connections among the museum’s various collections and significantly improving access for visitors of all physical abilities. The Rothko project, which the museum announced in 2016 as a $50 million addition, has been delayed by Covid shutdowns and the resulting financial stress on downtown and potential donors. Costs have escalated, too, including a plan announced in 2017 to fold an additional $25 million for the museum’s endowment fund into the project: The museum has now put a $110 million price tag on the entire construction and endowment project, which it hopes to have completed sometime in 2025.

Moving the loading dock is a necessary first step. It will move trucks off the plaza, which is used as a busy pedestrian thoroughfare between 10th Avenue and the South Park Blocks, and where busloads of schoolchildren visiting the museum enter and exit. Loading will be done during off-peak hours, the museum says, and be done inside the building so it doesn’t tie up street traffic. A gallery not in current use will be transformed into a loading and unloading area.

The museum expects to break ground on the Rothko Pavilion sometime in fall 2023. The project has undergone significant changes since its initial proposal, partly through negotiations with the city and responses from neighborhood residents and frequent users of the plaza as a pedestrian and bicycle passageway. The pavilion, originally planned to cut off the plaza, will now retain a wide walkthrough. It will also include a free ground floor Community Commons and gathering space. When completed, the project will have added or renovated 95,000 square feet of space, including new galleries, elevators, restrooms, and public gathering spaces.

The museum remains in the “quiet phase” of its fundraising efforts, and expects to announce the more public phase later this year. “We are creating a thriving arts center that is easy to navigate and explore and where everyone feels welcome,” Brian Ferriso, the museum’s director and chief curator, said in a prepared statement. “While we have envisioned this project for years, there is no better time for us to play such a pivotal role in downtown’s recovery and resiliency.”

Meanwhile, more information is available here.

Bob Hicks has been covering arts and culture in the Pacific Northwest since 1978, including 25 years at The Oregonian. Among his art books are Kazuyuki Ohtsu; James B. Thompson: Fragments in Time; and Beth Van Hoesen: Fauna and Flora. His work has appeared in American Theatre, Biblio, Professional Artist, Northwest Passage, Art Scatter, and elsewhere. He also writes the daily art-history series "Today I Am."

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