A couple years ago, while attending a Third Angle classical music performance, I met a woman named Carole Zoom and her husband Brett, both recent Eugene transplants. We've stayed in touch since then, which is easy because they're culture vultures who enjoy making it to plays, film screenings and concerts. Brett is also an accomplished journalist who has written frequently about architecture for publications like the Wall Street Journal and Los Angeles Times, for whom he did a nice Thom Mayne profile last year.
Back in Eugene, Carole did something terrific for the local arts community. She bought a building, rented it out (at a reduced rate) to local nonprofit arts organizations as the Midtown Art Center, and then negotiated to sell them the building. (Carole is also an artist and photographer.)
And now, Carole is looking to do the same in Portland. In a recent email she writes:
In Eugene in 2005 I purchased a building with my personal nestegg in order to consolidate eight arts organizations under one roof, allow them shared infrastructure so that they could use more of their money for their missions. The Eugene Ballet took leadership on the nonprofit side and pulled together the tenants for the 14,000 sqare foot building. Our arrangement allowed them reduced rent for 3 years so that they could do a capital campaign to purchase the building from me in 3 years. That building is now used by the Eugene Ballet and seven other arts organizations, and they are purchasing the building from me this summer.
I am searching now for tenants in Portland for a similar set up. My goal is to buy a building in summer large enough for numerous nonprofits to use and work together to raise funds to purchase it from me as their fundraising allows. I am not rich and am not able to give the building to nonprofits, but I want my investment to work for justice in the community.
She wrote me recently asking if I knew of a building that might be suitable. My immediate first thought was the downtown building on SW 10th Avenue with the colored checkerboard panels. It's been vacant for years despite an ideal location; I've heard it's not in great shape, but I still think for the right tenant it could be a real landmark. Carole looked into it, but found the building has been taken off the market. (Does anyone know the story?)
Another thought I had was for Carole to partner with Oregon Ballet Theater to expand their building on Southeast Morrison between Belmont and Morrison, as originally planned several years ago in a Holst Architecture-designed plan. All these years later, OBT is still occupying the same drab old former bank building with nothing to indicate an arts organization is there save for the sign on the side. It's a great location: just a block away from Grand Avenue (where a streetcar line will eventually be) and the Morrison Bridge east terminus, yet with a little bit cheaper real estate than you'd have across the river on the west side. And yet this area is already well on its way to transforming into a denser and more vibrant urban place.
Carole Zoom is no millionaire philanthopist, but it's clear she's ready and able to make this project happen. Her project could end up being some simple conversion of an old building, as was the case in Eugene. But it could also be something more. What site and architect might best work with Carole to provide not only a home for some worthy art nonprofits, but do so in a wonderful package?
I'm afraid I missed writing this post before Carole's informational meeting about the building held last Wednesday. But I will pass on more information from Carole as it becomes available.