The Portland Museum of Art has hired a local architect to survey its inventory of buildings and grounds and design a campus master plan, just as the city is contemplating a major overhaul of the neighborhood.
Scott Simons Architects will focus on the museum’s potential growth and development, including possible uses for the vacant Clapp House, an 1832 Greek Revival building on Spring Street, and the private museum parking lot on Spring Street that formerly housed the YWCA.
The museum bought the Clapp House in 2008 from the Maine College of Art, after selling it to the school years ago.
“The master plan will analyze what we have and what we need, both in the short term and long term,” said museum director Mark Bessire.
The campus master plan is the final task of the museum’s current strategic plan, which was written in 2010. The overall goal of Simons’ work is to help the museum imagine what it will look like in 10 or 20 years, Bessire said. One motive of this work is the ongoing conversation about Congress Square and possible changes in traffic patterns involving High Street and improvements to Spring Street.
“We don’t want to react to what’s happening. We want to lead the conversation,” Bessire said. “With all the activity in Congress Square, from the renovations of the Civic Center to the opening of the Westin, we thought it was important for the museum to put a vision together of what we thought its presence would be going forward.”
The Westin Portland Harborview opened this winter in what was the historic Eastland Park Hotel. The Civic Center on Spring Street reopened in February after a renovation, and Congress Square Plaza, which abuts the hotel and faces the museum across from Congress Street, is the subject of intense citywide debate.
The City Council authorized turning most of the public square over to the Westin for private development, but a citizen initiative has forced a June 10 vote on the issue. Voters will decide whether to enact an ordinance that would reverse the council’s decision to sell two-thirds of the plaza.
Meanwhile, the Children’s Museum and Theatre of Maine, which occupies a building adjacent to the museum on the east, is looking for a new home. If the Children’s Museum vacates its Free Street space, there is wide speculation that the museum of art would want that building.
Bessire declined to speculate about the children’s museum, its future or the art museum’s possible interest in the building.
Michael Bourque, who chairs the Children’s Museum of Maine board, said it’s probably a matter of time before the Children’s Museum outgrows its current space.
“We’ve been exploring for a couple of years now what the possibilities are for us,” Bourque said. “We’ve looked at our current space, and we’re pretty constricted there. We think long term we are not going to be in that space.”
He would not say where the museum is looking to relocate.
Simons will take about six months to complete the survey and help the museum with its artistic vision, Bessire said. The process will include conversations with city leaders, neighbors and the local arts community.
Portland Museum of Art trustees John Wallace and John Isacke will lead the campus master plan effort at the board level.
The museum includes a cluster of modern and historic buildings at Congress Square, at the corners of High, Congress and Free streets. Spring Street runs along the back of the museum.
Scott Simons Architects has done award-winning design and planning work throughout the Northeast. Recent projects include the Portland Public Library, Waynflete Arts Center, Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens Education Center and the Casco Bay Ferry Terminal addition and renovation, under construction.
Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or at: