Design commission: room for improvement for amphitheater design
Portland Design Commission members say events promoter Live Nation has more work to do in order to win approval for a design of a temporary amphitheater proposed for the city's South Waterfront area.
The music venue project was in front of commission on Oct. 3 for design advice, a process that allows Live Nation and its project architect, Portland-based Hacker, to get feedback before presenting it for a formal design review.
Live Nation has pitched the 10,000-person-capacity amphitheater as having the potential to benefit the city by filling a much-needed gap in the inventory of local entertainment venues while creating jobs and bringing money to downtown businesses. However, design commissioners said the design currently falls short when it comes to offering enough of a year-round benefit for city residents.
"I think it's a pretty mixed bag on the public realm," Commissioner Jessica Molinar said during the meeting with Live Nation and Hacker. "You're off to a good start, but there's still a long way to go."
The amphitheater currently is planned for a portion of riverfront property owned by the Zidell family that was slated for development before plans with the city fell through. Live Nation has set up an arrangement to lease part of the property for seven years, with two two-year options to renew, for a total potential occupancy of 11 years. The event company anticipates holding about 25 shows each year between the middle of May and mid-October, all during off-peak hours from approximately 7 to 11 p.m. The venue also would be available for schools and other groups to use for concerts, graduations and other events.
Residents who live in the area as well as representatives for Ronald McDonald House and Oregon Health & Science University, which are located near the amphitheater site, have voiced concerns about noise and traffic that might be generated by concerts and other events at the proposed music venue.
Design commissioners had other concerns about the project, including the durability of selected materials and a failure to activate public areas near the amphitheater site. Although Live Nation has planned the amphitheater to be a temporary structure, the use of the venue does not fit within the city's definition of a non-permanent structure. As a result, commissioners are required to evaluate the project using design guidelines for permanent structures.
Preliminary designs for the amphitheater venue include a pre-event area featuring "walls" made from tubs filled with hops growing up and along rope trellises. The tubs would be moved to create "rooms" of various sizes where people could gather before and during concerts and other events. While commissioners gave Live Nation and Hacker credit for innovation, they felt the concept was overly reliant on season landscaping and expressed concerns about what the grounds would look like during wet winter months.
Other materials featured in the design also raised questions about durability. Live Nation is proposing using artificial turf for the venue. However, commissioners questioned the durability of the material. Matt Prieshoff, chief strategy office for Live Nation, said the artificial turf proposed for the area has been used for other Live Nation venues with great success. He added that the event promoter's policy is to replace venue materials such a turf as needed and shoulder any associated costs.
The preliminary design taps shipping containers as spaces for local food and beverage vendors, including a location for anchor vendor Breakside Brewery. Although the brewery would be inside the fenced amphitheater area, it would be open to the publicduring non-event periods, Prieshoff told design commissioners.
That approach didn't sit well with members of the design commission, who felt the Breakside building needed to be better incorporated into areas normally used by the public.
"It needs to be about the Portland waterfront. It's got to be a part of the city," Julie Livingston, the commission chair, said.
Livingston suggested Live Nation and Hacker consider finding a different orientation for the Breakside building that would place it outside the fence that will surround the amphitheater area, which would result in creating activity in public spaces along the waterfront.
"I think there's more placemaking that needs to happen," Livingston said.
"It feels like (the current design) is mainly serving Live Nation," she added
The view was voiced by other commissioners with regard to other aspects of the design. Commissioners indicated, for example, that they would like to see more information about how pedestrian areas will be lit during night-time hours when events aren't being held. Commissioners also questioned whether the plan included enough weather protection features. Currently, the only such features are limited to sunshades.
Commissioners also stressed that finding a way to activivate the venue during the winter would be critical to creating a design abel to meet the city's design guidelines. They encouraged Live Nation to look for possible programs, such as the Winter Lights event, that could be held at the venue during the off-season. Prieshoff said his team has been talking with local groups to find such opportunities.
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