In November 2005, David Gold opened the Goldsmith Building as a promising incubator space in Chinatown for artists and creative businesses, intending for it to grow into one of Portland's hottest raw performance spaces.
Two years later, that promise now appears to be fading for several of those art and performance groups.
On Oct. 1, Gold gave the Portland Art Center, a nonprofit contemporary arts space and artist services provider, until Dec. 1 to come up with its back rent. And a few weeks later, he told a handful of Portland theater companies renting space in the building that they'd need to find a new home as of Jan. 1.
"If you wanna have me look like the big, bad landlord, that's one thing," says Gold, co-owner and developer of the building. "But I'm a supporter of the arts."
Gold has increased PAC's monthly rent from $1,000 to $5,000, as spelled out in PAC's lease, saying he needs to move the rents up to "market-appropriate levels." In that same vein, he's also not renewing $600-a-month leases by the award-winning theater groups Fever Theater and Hand2Mouth Theatre.
"Gold is a businessman, and he seems like he has a desire to support the arts," says Kate Sanderson, a founding Fever Theater member. "But he has his job as a businessman that has to come first, and it seems to create a conflict of interest in him."
Gold has long been a champion of artist live-work space and Portland's creative class.
"Our future isn't in building airplanes or anything like that," he said in a 2005 WW cover story ("Creative Bind," June 8, 2005). "Our future is in these people."
Businessman, arts supporter or both—the results of Gold's decisions are clear: another setback in an already tough climate for fringe performance groups, and a difficult fundraising battle ahead for the PAC.
The Goldsmith, a 68,000-square-foot former furniture warehouse at Northwest 5th Avenue and Couch Street, houses about 20 artist studios. And it's also home to large "creative" for-profit businesses like Brightworks, an energy and environmental design firm.
The PAC, one of the prime tenants Gold helped lure two years ago to anchor the building, is $26,000 behind on its rent. And that's on top of being $14,000 behind on payroll for its two-person staff, says PAC director Gavin Shettler.
Gold has given the art center until Dec. 1 to prove it can come up with the money to catch up on rent and provide a feasible future fundraising plan.
If it fails, the PAC will be homeless.
The prospect of losing the PAC at the Goldsmith Building is unthinkable for 37-year-old artist Lorna Nakell, who rents a studio above the Center for about $475 a month. She says part of what attracted her to rent there was the visibility her studio receives from PAC events.
"PAC is an amazing facility and it has a lot of potential," Nakell says. "There are a lot of big-money donors who should see the importance of the center and help them out."
When the Center moved into the Goldsmith in December 2005, Gold—a former tennis partner of Shettler's and a member of the PAC's advisory board—offered plenty of attractive bonuses.
Among them: free rent for eight months, 10,000 square feet in the building's well-trafficked street-level corner, and the opportunity to attract new artist tenants to Gold's building, many of whom participate in PAC programming.
"I consider myself probably the biggest supporter of PAC," Gold says. "But I've carried them as long as I can. I can't afford to carry them any further."
Shettler says "David is probably the one developer I can say I really trust." He notes that Gold "always knew that taking on a young organization would be a big risk. And we knew coming in that it was gonna be a real challenge for us to build the support level we needed to be able to afford this space."
Shettler, though, remains positive that he'll meet the Dec. 1 deadline. "We've done really well in all respects except in attracting large-scale donors," he says. "The community is really rallying."
Gold also defends his decision to end leases for resident companies Fever Theater and Hand2Mouth Theatre, and occasional renter Liminal Performance Group. Gold says he needs to attract higher-end, for-profit creative businesses to bring the rentals closer to market value in fast-growing Chinatown.
Sanderson says Gold provided Fever, Hand2Mouth and other groups with a "really amazing raw space that's pretty hard to find." She adds that her company would like to be somewhere "where we're really welcomed."
Gold's ongoing struggles with artists in his building signals what some—such as Nakell—see as an alarming trend at the Goldsmith: luring artists in with cheap rents, only to kick them out to make space for for-profit creative businesses and higher-rent artist studios.
Nakell tells it this way: The artists move in, the building gets nice and then the artists are priced out.
"I deal with artists all the time, and they don't have the money to pay the rent the majority of the time," Gold says. He also asks people to consider his work with artists another way:
"Think about the value of the space we've provided for artist groups over the years," he says. "If you look at the good work that's come out of the Goldsmith Blocks in Portland, it's something I'm proud of."