New design unveiled for Munjoy Hill perfomance hall

January 22, 2013 in Articles

Author: Randy Billings
Publication: Portland Press Herald

Neighbors and a city panel asked for a design that would better blend with its surroundings.

PORTLAND — An architectural firm has come up with a new design for a performance hall proposed on Munjoy Hill, in an effort to allay the concerns of neighbors and preservationists.

The Friends of the St. Lawrence Church submitted new plans for 411-seat performance hall on Munjoy Hill on Monday, Jan. 21, 2012, which seeks to address concerns raised by residents and historic preservationists.

The Friends of the St. Lawrence Church wants to build a performance hall at 76 Congress St., where a 19th century church and bell tower once stood.

On Dec. 5, the group presented rough designs to the city that showed the building's size in relation to nearby buildings. Neighbors and a city panel asked the group to refine the design so it would blend better with its surroundings.

David Lloyd, an architect for Portland-based Archetype Architects, submitted new plans this month on behalf of the Friends of the St. Lawrence Church.

Lloyd said Portland's Historic Preservation Committee is expected to take up the new design on Feb. 6.

The St. Lawrence property is designated a local historic site, so the preservation board has a say on how the design fits into the neighborhood and interacts with the former church's historic parish hall.

Any final designs will need approval from the Planning Board.

"It's still a design in progress," said Deirdre Nice, executive director of the Friends of the St. Lawrence Church.

Lloyd outlined the changes to the design in a letter to the city staff dated Jan. 7. Most notably, the amount of seating was reduced to 411 seats and the building height along the street was reduced by 5 feet. The original design called for at least 450 seats.

Lloyd said the highest point of the building would be 52 feet. The plan includes a top-floor room with ocean views that would be used by the audience during shows and could be used by the community during off hours.

The design includes a tall glass entryway and a perforated copper skin in the exterior that would be backlit.

The Congress Street face of the building was set back 9 feet in the revised design, allowing a better view of the former parish hall -- the only remaining portion of the historic St. Lawrence Church.

A porch with granite columns was added along Congress Street, the roof of which would be in line with existing roof lines.

Also, the Munjoy Street face of the building was set back at the upper level to break up the mass of the building, and "a pink granite element" was added at the building's base and up the sides "in a reflection of the granite on the original sanctuary and the existing parish hall."

"I'm pleased," Nice said. "It's obviously a modern design, but it's something that can be achieved."

In 2010, the friends group received preliminary approvals for a hall that would incorporate the rebuilt 19th century Gothic-style exterior of the sanctuary, which was demolished in 2008. That plan addressed parking concerns by proposing a shuttle service to nearby parking lots.

Potential donors balked at the project's cost of $12 million to $17 million, so the group pursued a more affordable option, leading to the current design.

The friends group now holds theater and music shows in the 110-seat parish hall, which was renovated in 2001 and would be a part of the new hall.

Nice said the venue is too small to generate enough revenue for investments in the historic parish hall while meeting the group's $160,000 annual budget.

"(The new design) is something that can support the 19th century building we did save," she said.





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