The City of Portland has initiated a new quest: the search for potential sites for a brand-new performing arts venue. Through a Request for Expressions of Interest (RFEI), the city invites parties to put forth properties that would be suitable for this venture.
The Keller Auditorium, with a history dating back over a century, has been the centerpiece of Portland’s performing arts scene, attracting close to 400,000 guests each year and hosting large-scale performances such as ballets, operas, and Broadway productions. However, the grand old venue, like many of its contemporaries, was not built to weather a major earthquake, a fact underscored by a seismic report in 2020.
Beyond seismic issues, there is a need to upgrade guest amenities, backstage facilities, and mechanical and production systems at the Keller Auditorium to ensure large-scale productions can carry on into the future. The auditorium, operated by the Portland’5 Centers for the Arts under the Metropolitan Exposition and Recreation Commission’s (Metro) supervision, is one of five venues owned by the City of Portland.
The City, along with Metro, in 2022 funded a privately led initiative to explore a renovation plan for the Keller Auditorium, enhancing seismic resilience, safety, accessibility, and production efficiency. The renovation plan, building on an earlier design competition, is expected to be completed by late summer 2023.
In parallel, the City is examining possibilities for a new large-scale performing arts venue to give a comprehensive assessment of options for Keller Auditorium’s future. While renovating or rebuilding on-site are two obvious options, a third option of constructing a new building in an alternate location is under consideration. This approach would enable uninterrupted operations and may present new opportunities unavailable at the current site.
The City is keeping all avenues open regarding partnerships for the potential new site, including purchase, lease, or co-development. The prospect of becoming an anchor tenant to a larger development and fueling significant economic impact for the region is seen as both thrilling and pioneering.
Following this RFEI, the City may shortlist up to three sites that fulfill minimum requirements for further evaluation and conceptual design work. The final renovation design for the Keller Auditorium, paired with a list of potential sites for a new venue, will provide City leaders with an extensive set of options for the future of performing arts in Portland.
This initiative will be managed by the City of Portland Spectator Venues Program, in collaboration with Metro and the Portland’5 Centers for the Performing Arts. However, it is crucial to note that funding to construct a project has not been identified at this stage. This RFEI does not serve as a formal offering, award, or assurance of participation in future solicitation.
Ideal site attributes for a new large performing arts venue include a minimum area of two acres, strong mass transit and bike parking access, sufficient nearby vehicle parking or space for on-site construction, and truck and passenger vehicle loading/drop-off zones. A location within Portland’s Central City is preferred.
The prospective new venue will ideally have over 200,000 square feet of floor area, a seating capacity of 2,800-3,000 patrons, a stage equipped with an orchestra pit and rigging suitable for large-format performances, a loading dock capable of handling at least two full-sized trucks simultaneously, back-of-house amenities including dressing rooms, rehearsal space, production spaces, and necessary storage for large-scale theatrical productions, and front-of-house amenities such as spacious lobbies, a restaurant, pre-function spaces, restrooms, reception spaces, a coat check, guest services, and bars.
Portland’s search for a new performing arts venue thus signifies an exciting new chapter in the city’s rich cultural history, with the potential to propel it further onto the world stage.