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Armory may get an arts overhaul

Portland Center Stage sets goal for capture of historic garrison

The Portland Armory, a 114-year-old brick-and-stone garrison whose future was starting to seem a bit iffy, has been recast as the future home of Portland Center Stage.

The Portland Development Commission last week approved a loan of up to $6.2 million to the Portland Historic Rehabilitation Fund to pay for the purchase and initial redevelopment of the historic building.

The first priority is replacement of the armory's roof, which is supported by aged and flammable wood trusses, as well as seismic upgrading of the unreinforced masonry structure.

There's a definite deadline involved: Portland Center Stage needs to raise $2 million of the $6.2 million total by Sept. 30, so that the initial work is done to coincide with a May 1, 2004, completion date for the Henry, a multistory luxury condominium complex that will occupy the rest of the block.

Julie Vigeland, who served for five years as board chairwoman of Portland Center Stage and now will head its capital campaign, said she is 'very confident' that the $2 million can be raised by the September deadline.

She called the PDC vote 'one more piece' to advance the 16-year-old theater company's relocation into the armory building. Its headquarters are now at the Newmark Theater in the Portland Center for the Performing Arts.

A new home in the armory 'is really ideal,' she said. 'It's in a great location for us in the Pearl, kind of in the heart of so many art things that are going on.' Other advantages, she said, include 1,300 parking spaces just across the street as well as its location along the Portland streetcar line.

'We have preliminary drawings, and everything can fit in there ÑÊtwo theaters, all of our administration space, the costume shop, rehearsal hall and education area,' Vigeland said.

Scenery will continue to be stored at the current location, the production shop on Northwest Front Avenue.

The move to the armory also will free up space for other Portland performing arts groups, Vigeland said.

The historic rehabilitation fund is part of an Oregon Mutual Benefit Corp. created under PDC's auspices but governed by a separate board of directors.

PDC financial analyst John Warner said the armory will be the first use of the rehab fund, which is intended to leverage public-private partnerships to preserve historic buildings. The project also will carry on the emphasis on 'green buildings' that is well established in the Brewery Blocks development.

Built in 1889 as the First Regiment Armory Annex, the armory served the Oregon National Guard for decades. Soldiers were mustered there for both the Spanish-American War and World War I.

Later, pro wrestling, hockey and roller derby were staged there. The Blitz-Weinhard Brewing Co. bought the building in 1968 and used it for storage.

Gerding/Edlen Development Co. bought the brewery property after the brewery closed in 1999 and launched the $200 million Brewery Blocks development on five blocks in the Pearl District.

Initial plans called for the armory to house retail and office space, including an REI store, but the Seattle-based retailer decided to build elsewhere in the Pearl. More recently, a fitness center had expressed interest in the armory, which essentially is one very large, two-story room.