Consider the greatest partnerships of modern times.
Peanut butter and jelly.
Batman and Robin.
Tri-Met and … the Portland Oregon Visitor Association?
The future match lies at the heart of a $2.4-million remodel project planned for Pioneer Courthouse Square in downtown Portland. Funded with a combination of public and private funds, the renovation will transform underutilized office space tucked beneath the square into a tourist’s paradise complete with POVA’s information center, a Tri-Met ticket office and a 75-seat multi-media theater.
The visitor center idea first surfaced two years ago when Karen Whitman, now the remodel project manager, began questioning why Tri-Met’s ticket office was the only tenant in the largely unused office space. She approached the Friends of Pioneer Courthouse Square, a nonprofit organization that manages the square for the city of Portland, with the suggestion to create a task force to determine if the square was living up to its public space potential.
The task force learned from Tri-Met that tourists who stopped by the Pioneer Square ticket office always asked the same question: What’s there to do around Portland?
A few blocks away, staff at POVA’s Information Center fielded a different question. Tourists wanted to know how they could get to local hot spots.
“We raised our heads out of the sand,” Whitman said. “We said, ‘Let’s create this unique visitor center that has comprehensive, up-to-date, accurate information that allows people to enjoy the things downtown and tell them how to visit those places on public transportation,’” Whitman said. “It was such a simple idea.”
The process to turn the idea into reality – and an empty space into a thriving center – was less straightforward, however. A 40-year lease agreement gives Tri-Met control over the office space interior of the square. And because Pioneer Courthouse Square is considered a park, the project had to receive permission at local, state and federal levels.
“There were lots of red tape entanglements weaving through the local park bureau, the state park administration and clear up to the federal state park administration,” Whitman said.
Upon receiving agency approval in triplicate, and a Tri-Met agreement to join a partnership with POVA and Friends of Pioneer Square, the project moved from brainstorm mode to drawing boards.
Soderstrom Architects of Portland, tapped for the original design of the square and for an exterior renovation two years ago, was asked to serve as project architect for the remodel. Shiels Obletz Johnsen, another Portland firm with ties to the original creation of the square, signed on to handle project administration.
Project manager Whitman also has a long-time association with what has become one of the most widely used locations in the city. “I came up with the name bricks,” Whitman said, referring to a fund-raising idea that more than 17 years ago helped propel Pioneer Square into reality.
For the upcoming renovation, Whitman spearheaded fund-raising efforts. Portland Development Commission, the city’s Bureau of General Services and Tri-Met kicked into the pot. So did the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development. A federal transportation grant provided $376,000. Nearly $1 million has come in from private contributors.
“The capital money is already raised,” Whitman said. “I know where every dime is coming from.” Less certain is the $300,000 still needed to create the theater’s multi-media shows that will highlight spots of interest around the city. That money will probably come from private donations, Whitman said.
While pieces of the project have slowly fallen into place, there is still one more hurdle to clear before the demolition and subsequent remodel of the office space can begin.
During construction, the square will continue to serve as a hub of regional public transportation and the focus of community gatherings. One of those gatherings – the Nov. 24 lighting of the city’s Christmas tree – will delay the start of serious demolition. Once that event passes, however, the square will fill with heavy equipment, lifts and workers as construction efforts kick into high gear.
“Basically, we’re going to take apart and rebuild about 10,000 square feet of anything in there that exists,” Whitman said. The only portion of the square space that will remain untouched is Powell’s Travel Store. The store, which specializes in travel-related books, will remain open during construction.
Tri-Met has moved its ticket office to a temporary space in The Galleria a short distance west. Once the remodel is complete – a contract date set for May 15 – Tri-Met and POVA will move into the newly created visitor center. A grand opening is planned for June 1, just in time for an influx of visitors for Portland’s annual Rose Festival, Whitman said.
— by: Stephanie Basalyga, Daily Journal of Commerce
Original article: www.djcoregon.com
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