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Art and commerce at odds

Portland Opera, OMSI may get lucky with land buys, so why's the city worried?

The central east-side riverfront is about to seal its status as an education, arts and cultural Mecca.

But visions of a corporate headquarters zone there may suffer a setback as a result.

The Portland Opera expects to close on a deal next week to buy the former KPTV (12) studios on the riverbank just south of the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry.

The opera company, whose current headquarters is at 1515 S.W. Morrison St., will buy the building from Meredith Corp., which acquired KPTV last fall. The Portland Opera is the 14th-largest opera company in the country, with a budget of $6.8 million.

Jeffrey Evershed, chairman of the Portland Opera board of directors, said the opera has been looking for a permanent rehearsal facility and wants to consolidate its administrative, ticket, rehearsal and education functions. He would not comment on the proposed facility until the purchase is announced Monday.

Opera performances will continue to be at Keller Auditorium on the west side.

Last fall, KPTV moved its staff out of its highly visible riverbank building Ñ which was built eight years ago Ñ after the station was purchased by Meredith. The station moved to the Beaverton studio of KPDX (49), another Meredith property.

Meanwhile, OMSI has made an offer to buy an adjacent 5-acre site along the Eastside Esplanade from its biggest benefactor Ñ Portland General Electric.

The site, known as Station L, now serves as storage for PGE's electrical poles and trucks. OMSI President Nancy Steuber said the science museum is strained for meeting and classroom space and was never able to build a desired education wing when the museum was constructed in 1987.

PGE donated the 18 acres that OMSI now occupies.

'This is an opportunity for OMSI,' said Steuber, who said the offer was prompted by PGE's impending sale by its parent company, Enron Corp. 'We've explored PGE's interest and what their objectives for their property are. It is adjacent to OMSI and would be good for expansion.'

Station L site considered

In the past year, the Portland Development Commission has made it a priority to attract a corporate headquarters to the central east-side waterfront. PDC Executive Director Don Mazziotti said the Station L site is one of several that his agency has been examining for that purpose.

Purchase of the site by OMSI, a nonprofit organization, doesn't necessarily meet that goal. If the museum buys the property, like Portland Opera, it would not have to pay property taxes.

'I love OMSI and all that, but its impact on the tax base would have to be assessed,' said Peter Finley Fry, an independent planning consultant.

Randy Miller, a member of the Central Eastside Industrial Council and chairman of the Moore Co., said there's still enough land from Southeast Caruthers Street to OMSI to accommodate a corporate headquarters.

'If we had our complete desire, we'd want to suit OMSI's needs while at the same time save as much as possible for revenue generation,' he said. 'That would be the best of both worlds.'

PGE Executive Vice President Fred Miller said OMSI could decide to share its space with a science-related company, for example.

The Station L site Ñ which PGE had proposed for a three-block office project 10 years ago Ñ has been eyed as a possible corporate headquarters by KinderCare Learning Centers and Columbia Sportswear Co., among others.

Columbia's interest in the site waned when, citing too many city regulatory roadblocks, it opted to relocate to Beaverton. Chairwoman Gert Boyle said, 'The city made it difficult for us to keep within our financial range. They said we couldn't do aboveground parking, there were other rules and regulations. It's like a marriage Ñ if there are too many stumbling blocks, why bother? Life is too short.'

Portland's loss of the sportswear company's headquarters helped crystallize what some see as the city's growing antibusiness reputation.

PGE will decide on sale soon

Over the past year, the city's once gritty Central Eastside Industrial District Ñ the 600 acres that lie between Interstate 84 and the Ross Island Bridge Ñ has attracted numerous artists, photographers, industrial designers and other creative professionals. Despite the buzz of the freeway overhead, newcomers have been lured by the low rents in aging warehouse buildings and land available for redevelopment.

Among the sites that have undergone renovation: the 160,000-square-foot East Bank Commerce Center and the Gotham Building.

In addition, Portland Community College's central Portland work force training center is housed nearby.

'The district is really hot right now,' said Fry, the planning consultant.

Construction of an Eastside Streetcar line also is in the planning stages.

All of this bodes well for OMSI, which is somewhat isolated along the south waterfront.

The museum was on the brink of financial collapse in the late 1990s and still operates on a lean budget.

Steuber said the museum's focus in the next three to five years is outreach and programs that increase its relationship with schools, industries and businesses. Because of limited space, OMSI has been holding science classes off-site in Portland public schools. The museum has also been unable to hold events such as sit-down dinners or lectures, Steuber said.

'We are out of capacity in meeting that need,' she said. 'That revenue stream is important to us.'

The museum attracts a million visitors a year; 350,000 children enroll in OMSI classes.

Sale of the Station L site Ñ where PGE spent an estimated $1 million to clean up PCBs ÑÊis not contingent on Enron's decision to sell PGE to the city or a private company, PGE's Miller said. Enron is expected to announce its decision in the next several weeks.

Miller said OMSI would be a 'good occupant. There are several opportune projects for it. If it's good to customers, we'll consider it.'

Contact Kristina Brenneman at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..