Portland dance companies on the move hither and yon

Oregon Ballet Theatre, Polaris and Conduit are relocating from their long-time home bases

As Portland continues through a cycle of redevelopment fed by an influx of new residents, a good economy and a hot real estate market, Portland art organizations have found their grasp on studios in the central core to be looser than maybe they hoped. Those that own property, such as Oregon Ballet Theatre, have been able to cash in, but renters have faced the necessity and expense of finding new homes. Polaris Dance Theatre, for example, has just announced that it has found new digs, and Conduit, evicted suddenly in March, is in the process of locating space, too.

We don’t have much we can add to Oregon Ballet Theatre’s announcement that it was intending to close the sale of its current building in Southeast Portland and move to a new South Waterfront location by the end of the year. The initial press release was pretty vague, and though we’ve heard a few additional things, nothing approaching “official” or “confirmed.”

The sale will allow the city’s biggest dance company to pay off its accumulated debts and set up “a protected reserve fund, not utilized for day to day operations of OBT, but for the future capital needs of the organization,” as the press release put it. The company didn’t announce how much that fund would amount to, though we’ve heard some numbers batted about in the neighborhood of $4 million. Feel free to disregard that number completely, because it was speculative. When and if OBT tells us how much exactly—and presumably the company won’t know until the sale closes—we’ll let you know.


Xuan Cheng in rehearsal as Cinderella. Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

Xuan Cheng in rehearsal as Cinderella at Oregon Ballet Theatre’s current Southeast Portland studio. Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

The new space is at 720 SW Bancroft Street, the south end of the South Waterfront district, convenient both to the Willamette River and the Old Spaghetti Factory, for carb-famished dancers who like a river view. The building has been occupied by Clear Wimax Internet, so presumably it will be well wired, and it has parking. In fact, OBT praised its “easily accessible close-in location with ample parking, adjacent public transportation via street car and bus lines, an increased number of and expanded studio space, and improved point of service for box office and school registration.” The company didn’t say how long its lease was, but it did say that the building will need some conversion to OBT’s needs, dance floors for the new studios at the very least. On an internet office information site, we discovered that the asking price for rent was $24,200 per month for 13,200 square feet, though again, we have no specific details of OBT’s lease.

For now, company activities will continue in Southeast, at 818 SE Sixth Ave., a space the company bought nearly 15 years ago for $1.45 million (according to city records), when James Canfield was the artistic director. Central Eastside property prices have risen since then, of course, though the current assessed market value is $2,170,960, which makes that $4 million estimate we tossed about above seem high. OBT’s block is going through the design review process right now for a six-story development, bottom floor retail and the rest residential, though an early design was turned down.

Even if we had all the details of the deal, it would be difficult to assess with any confidence the relative wisdom of selling the property now and making a new home on the other side of the river. The only thing we can say for certain is that OBT has cashed in its most valuable chip and hopes for the best. We know that space for arts organizations in the downtown core is becoming increasingly scarce, and that smaller groups have had to be very creative in finding housing arrangements, including moving in together. So far, those arrangements have proven to be pretty successful.

We’ll be following OBT’s developments closely for you, while all of this is sorted out.


Polaris Dance Theatre's spacious new home in Northwest Portland./Courtesy Polaris Dance Theatre

Polaris Dance Theatre’s spacious new home in Northwest Portland./Courtesy Polaris Dance Theatre

Polaris Dance Theatre has also found a new home, though the company and its sizable education wing didn’t leave its current base of operations at Southwest 15th and Taylor out of choice. The property is going to be redeveloped, so Polaris launched a search process for a new home. The result? A new home at 1826 NW 18th Ave., which as the press release indicates, is “just blocks from the Pearl and Downtown” districts with “ample free, off-street parking, and easy walkability to public transportation, restaurants, and cafes.”

According to the press release, the company plans to move in this month, and the space “will allow Polaris to offer even more classes for youth, teens, and adults.  In addition to a 6000 sq. ft. space with 19 ft. ceilings, our imminent building plans have been designed with the help of Artistic Director Robert Guitron to distinctly accommodate the needs of Polaris Dance Theatre. Renovations to construct a lobby, offices and four studios (with the largest doubling as a performance venue seating 100) are due to be complete by 2015.”


Another Portland dance institution, Conduit, has been in flux since March when it was suddenly evicted from the Pythian Building in downtown Portland where it had resided through its first 20 years of existence. Fortunately, there have been encouraging signs of life of late.

The modern dance studio has found temporary office space in the Ford Building on Southeast Division, for example, and the company has created “Conduit Mobile,” finding spots around the city for its classes and rehearsal spaces. The summer Dance+ Festival will move to Reed College’s Performance Lab, which sounds like a great solution, the company is working with a realtor who specializes in arts spaces to find a permanent home, and the company has enlisted arts consultant/guru George Thorn to help think things through. Finally, the company received a $20,000 technical assistance grant from the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation SEED Grant Program, and it will start a Bridge Fund Campaign soon, to help it re-establish itself in a new home.

Let’s say you want to help? Maybe you know of a 2000 square foot space suitable for a studio and performances, maybe you can temporarily store Conduit’s equipment somewhere in your Tiny House (because you are just THAT organized), maybe you have office equipment lying around that you would like to donate? You could contact Vanessa Vogel, the company’s new co-director for admin/outreach at conduitpdx@gmail.com and let them know.




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