Monday, October 4, 2010

Opera Theater Oregon backs away the Guild renovation

By Barry Johnson

On Saturday, I received an email from Katie Taylor, the artistic director of Opera Theater Oregon, and it had some bad news -- she was calling an end to her attempt to renovate the Guild Theater in downtown Portland and replace it with a small concert hall/theater.

Taylor's plan was intended to create a new, acoustically acute home for Portland's alt.classical music groups, which now perform in various clubs, churches and halls around the city, some of them suitable for inventive flights of musical fancy and some not so much. Although her plan never reached the programming stage, presumably the new hall would have been used by Taylor's own indie opera group and other imaginative groups such as Electric Opera Company, Filmusik, Vagabond Opera and a host of others who play in the border lands between classical and popular music.

Taylor wrote that the cost of the project zoomed to to more than $2 million once the engineers and architects started looking into the building (Taylor originally said that the renovation might cost as little $300,000) and that made the negotiation with the building's owners, Tom Moyer's TMT Development, more complicated. Eventually, they failed to reach an agreement, Taylor said. She also wrote that she's not giving up the effort to build a new home, which makes sense -- she knows far more about it all now than she knew before she entered into this process.

Arts Dispatch has considered the possibilities of a new small, acoustically adroit concert space before. Taylor put a twist on this idea by gearing it toward less traditional groups than I had in mind, and the more I think about it, the better I like that idea. From Portland Taiko, Third Angle, Fear No Music and Portland Cello Project to the many manifestations of Classical Revolution PDX, a hybrid musical sensibility is taking root here. A home base for those explorations makes a lot of sense.

Taylor also had a more practical eye about it all than my pie-in-the-sky proposal. And that's a promising sign going forward, too.


MightyToyCannon said...

On Sunday, we enjoyed lunch at Director Park (thanks, Violetta)before heading to a performance by Portland Taiko in the Newmark Theatre. As we ate, I was thinking about the Guild's great location adjacent to this new and lively public square. This news is disappointing, but not surprising. I applaud Opera Theater Oregon for at least giving it a shot. Now, will a better-heeled group step up and give it a try? A little leadership from City of Portland and PDC? Even at $2 million, it seems like a great investment.

Barry Johnson said...

I agree -- $2+ million for a 400-seat theater in that location might make some sense for someone, yes?

Katie Taylor said...

Hi MightyToyCannon,

It's not so much the price tag as who gets the benefit of that money. In order to raise that kind of money to improve leased property, donors (and we) need assurance the cost of the improvements 'belongs' to us (meaning we receive enough comped lease to depreciate them out). In order for $2.5 million in improvements to depreciate at a rate of $100,000 a year, about 20 years worth of free lease is required. The owner wasn't willing to do that. Any org going into that building, however well heeled, would be looking at improving TMT's building to the tune of $2.5 million without quid pro quo. The owners are unwilling to sell, which is the only other way I could see this pencilling out. That's why we are, regretfully, looking elsewhere. I would be really pleased if someone else could somehow make this work out, but I would be surprised if they could.

Thanks for posting this, Barry!

Barry Johnson said...

Thanks for the explanation, Katie. Yes, it's hard to justify economically unless you own the building. And for all we know, the current owner of the property doesn't want to lock anything in over that period of time, just because the location is so good.

MightyToyCannon said...

Clearly the ownership issue is a deciding factor here. Thanks for clarifying.