PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — The Keller Auditorium has been a go-to space for Portland’s performing arts scene since its opening in 1917. However, the historic building has raised seismic concerns — leading the city to either take years to update it to today’s standards or to construct a new performance space entirely.
On Friday, Aug. 25, city officials announced that private developers were almost done with a renovation plan for the pre-existing Keller Auditorium on Southwest Clay Street.
But in mid-July, the city issued a Request for Expression of Interest. This allowed other parties to propose alternative sites that could serve as Portland’s next performing arts hub.
Portland State University, an Oregon Museum of Science and Industry property, Zidell Yards and the Lloyd Center Mall are among the other sites that were proposed for a new venue.
According to officials, the city, Prosper Portland and Portland’5 Centers for the Performing Arts will narrow down the proposed locations in September before conducting further evaluations.
“By early 2024, both the Keller Auditorium renovation concept and a list of properties which could serve as potential sites for a new large-scale performing arts facility will be shared with city leaders as a comprehensive set of options for exploring the future of premier performing arts in Portland,” the city said.
Last year, Portland’5 Center for the Arts Executive Director Robyn Williams told KOIN 6 that the Keller Auditorium hadn’t been remodeled since the 1960s when developers were inspired by other traditional venues like the Lincoln Center and Kennedy Center.
Building codes have changed a lot since then, and according to a seismic analysis of the venue conducted in 2020, the Keller Auditorium’s “structural resiliency and ability to withstand a major earthquake” at this moment are questionable.
Experts estimated that a major renovation of the auditorium would cost $215 million, while a new building at a new site could cost $245 million.
Halprin Landscape Conservancy Executive Director Karen Whitman said reinvesting in the historic site would also be a reinvestment in downtown Portland.
“It’s become so valuable, such a part of Portland and Portland’s history, and I think it’s very much tied to Portland’s future if we think about the next chapter for Portland,” Whitman said. “We think it would be wonderful to have the leaders of Portland aspire to another performing arts center, but not one to replace the Keller.”
Whitman said she feels the previous studies failed to see the untapped potential in restoring the Keller, and invited those operating the Keller and users to come together to re-imagine the future.
“Creating all the flaws, creating all of the, ‘We wish that could be better at the Keller,’ and we believe that we have created a feasibility study that will give us a 21st century performing arts facility there,” she said.
After eight months of work, Halprin gave KOIN 6 an exclusive look at their newly finished report and renovation concept for Keller, which found it is feasible to upgrade the auditorium and resolve all of the facility’s current physical and operational challenges.
Principal architect Andrew Smith says some of the solutions devised by Hennebery Eddy Architects include expanding the building to the west and east – to create more space for loading docs, concessions, equitable seating, and restrooms – as well as improving sitelines, acoustics and more.
“To transform it from being the Keller Auditorium, being a place where people come certain nights of the year and then go away and it’s essentially dark the rest of the time, into a space that’s more of a week-long, year-round destination,” Smith said.