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Council to take up Portland Museum of Art request to raze neighboring building for expansion

Craig Becker
Courtesy Portland Museum of Art
The Portland Museum of Art.

The city of Portland's Planning Board this week will consider a proposal that would allow the Portland Museum of Art to tear down a neighboring building to make way for an expansion project. But preservation advocates say the building should be protected under the City's historic preservation ordinance.

The Portland Museum of Art argues that renovations done over decades have changed the historical significance of the former Chamber of Commerce building on Free Street, which was most recently home to the Children's Museum.

But Greater Portland Landmarks maintains that structure still meets the criteria of what it calls a "contributing building" under the Historic Preservation Ordinance.

Carol De Tine of Greater Portland Landmarks says the building's renovated façade is the work of renowned architect John Calvin Stevens.

"John Calvin Stevens is one of our most famous architects and nationally known and a significant contributor to the architecture of Maine, and that's one of the criteria we need to meet in designating a contributing building," she says. "The Portland Museum of Art is asking the Planning Board to ignore the very rules they are charged with enforcing. We strongly believe that the evidence that led to its original designation continues to exist and more than meets the criteria of the ordinance."

The Planning Board will consider the issue on Tuesday and then make a recommendation to the City Council.

Portland's Historic Preservation Board voted unanimously in November to recommend that the city preserve the building, which is in the Congress Street Historic District.