Backers change plans for Gresham Center for the Arts

Supporters take public input into account in new plans for plaza and two buildings for site
by: contributed illustration, The plan for the Gresham Center for the Arts now includes a pair of two-story buildings with a plaza between. The building on the left and the plaza would be built first, while the structure on the right is planned for seven years down the road.

Gresham could have its very own version of Portland's Pioneer Square as soon as next summer.

The Center for the Arts has a new site plan, complete with an open-air plaza nestled between two buildings on 2 acres of land in the heart of Gresham donated to the city by the Fourier-Larson family. Organizers hope the new look builds fund-raising momentum to pay for the $16 million to $18 million project.

Previous renderings of a giant multi-purpose building at Northeast Second Street and Roberts Avenues left some donors cold. The new design is quite a departure from previous plans for a single structure with seating for 375.

Now, the project calls for two multi-story buildings divided by a plaza perfect for events like Gresham Farmers' Market, music festivals and other public gatherings.

To the west would be a two-story, 37,400-square-foot building with space for conferences and events - such as a 450-person banquet - all topped with a smaller 250-seat theater.

Sue O'Halloran, chairwoman of the Center of the Arts Foundation, said the space could house auctions, weddings, graduations, trade shows and conventions that now take place in Portland.

She hopes the plaza becomes the gathering place for eastsiders.

A second building to the east most likely won't be built for seven years, but would seat 700 in a larger, more formal theater. Its price tag is still undetermined due to the uncertainty of future construction costs.

Organizers hope the new design helps create a groundswell of support from the community, creating momentum for a project that stands to benefit East County groups ranging from the Mt. Hood Repertory Theatre to the Mt. Hood Jazz Festival.

And despite having a strong foundation of support, the project is in the process of rebuilding its credibility.

In the past year, organizers ended their relationship with a fund-raising consultant firm and winced as the project's largest donor pulled $500,000 in funding.

When faced with lackluster fund-raising results, they turned to the community for input into the building's design. Overwhelming feedback indicated a need for more open space, so an outdoor plaza was added, said Ed Gallagher, Gresham's communities and economic development director.

He'd even love to add an eco-roof/green space to the top of the first western building that would double as a creative wedding venue.

The new more flexible design also should make the facility more financially self-sufficient. For example, a ballet teacher could rent a space for classes that would help keep the building open.

Organizers also hope the center and its new plans draw art lovers from across the region - from Happy Valley to Welches.

And thanks to $750,000 in federal grants and local system development fees, organizers hope to have the plaza and sidewalks complete by next summer in time for the 2007 Farmers' Market and Mt. Hood Jazz Festival.

Construction of the first building is expected to begin in 2008.

Meanwhile, organizers will kick off a grassroots fund-raising effort this fall focusing on community members, including small business owners and residents who might want their name on brick pavers.

For information on how to make a tax-deductible donation, call the Center for the Arts Foundation at 503-665-7800.