Design rendering of the Portland Museum of Art’s Rothko Pavilion.

Portland Art Museum’s $50 Million Expansion Plan Sparks Public Outcry

The Portland Art Museum is facing backlash after it raised more than $27 million to build its new Rothko Pavilion—a glass-walled building that will add 30,000 square feet of space—before it received legal permission from the city to move forward with the expansion project, Sophia June of Williamette Week reports.

“It’s a pretty big error in judgment,” said planning consultant Peter Finley Fry. “Control of the site is the most important critical first step. If you’re going to spend millions, you [must] control the property legally before you start.”

Yet developer and museum board member Jim Winkler said that PAM engaged in several informal discussions with former mayor Charlie Hales. “I think we will prevail,” Winkler said. “It’d be a huge black eye for the city.”

The expansion project was first proposed when the museum announced that it would enter a twenty-year art-loaning partnership with the family of late Abstract Expressionist Mark Rothko in October 2016. The family promised to lend the institution major works from its private collections.

Designed by Chicago-based Vinci Hamp Architects, the three-story pavilion will connect the museum’s main building with a former Masonic temple that it acquired in 1992 and will feature 9,840 square feet of exhibition space, a third-floor sculpture garden, a new education and design lab, and additional space for the museum’s library.

Criticism over the project began when the public learned that the structure will fill a space that’s currently used as a public walkway and sculpture garden. While the museum maintains that the walkway would remain accessible, people would only be able to use it during museum hours.

Almost five decades ago, the city gave the museum permission to take over a portion of Southwest Madison Street to create the pedestrian walkway. The 1968 arrangement came with the stipulation that “the vacated street will not be used for any purpose other than an open mall.”

At a city council meeting on April 20, the museum asked to amend the ordinance to allow for the construction of the Rothko Pavilion. Members of the community said that closing off the walkway will hinder the public from trying to reach a streetcar stop and expressed concern for people with disabilities. One angry resident likened the pavilion to Trump’s border wall. After listening to the public testimony, city commissioner Dan Saltzman halted the vote on the easement but plans to reintroduce it next month.