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June 21, 2024

Greater Portland Landmarks sues to stop demo of 142 Free St., where museum plans to expand

File photo / Peter Van Allen Greater Portland Landmarks has sued the city of Portland, which recently removed the historic classification of 142 Free St., left, next to the Portland Museum of Art.

Greater Portland Landmarks, the historic preservation group that's been fighting plans by the Portland Museum of Art to expand next door, has now taken the battle to the courts.

On Thursday the group sued the city of Portland, seeking to overturn a decision by city councilors to remove the historical classification of a building at 142 Free St. The property, abutting the PMA campus, is owned by the museum and where it plans to build a 60,000-square-foot wing.

The PMA had requested that the building be reclassified as a "noncontributing structure" in the Congress Street Historic District. The change is necessary if the PMA is to raze the property and move forward with the $100 million expansion.

The proposal had faced months of opposition from Greater Portland Landmarks and others who believe 142 Free St. has architectural significance. Opponents have said the building, constructed in 1830 but later renovated and modified, should remain a contributing structure under the city's historic preservation ordinance.

In its complaint filed in Cumberland County Superior Court, Greater Portland Landmarks claims the city council's decision on May 20 was legally incorrect, an abuse of discretion, and unsupported by evidence.

“We have thought long and hard about taking this action, but the fact is, for 60 years Greater Portland Landmarks has worked to protect and preserve historic buildings and neighborhoods, and we are not going to stop now,” said Carol DeTine, the board vice president, in a news release.

“We have been encouraged to mount this appeal by supporters and donors and many other community members who were appalled by the recent city council vote, and we are confident that we will prevail.”

City spokeswoman Jessica Grondin declined to comment on the pending litigation.

At the art museum, which the complaint names as a party-in-interest, Director Mark Bessire said in a statement, “For the past year, we have fully committed to an extensive civic process in good faith with the city of Portland, adhering to all regulations, and fully agree with the decision made by the Portland City Council.

"This appeal questions the judgment of our elected officials and will also impose a significant financial and human resource burden on the city of Portland. The PMA remains committed to our mission of being an open, accessible, inclusive, and welcoming museum for everyone.”

It's not clear when the PMA would demolish 142 Free St. in order to begin construction of the new wing. The museum has said the work won't begin for a while. However, an architect is onboard for the project — LEVER Architecture, of Portland, Ore. — and the museum has estimated the project will be complete before 2027. 

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June 21, 2024

Complements to the team at GPL. Glad to donate as soon as I am able. The prior designation of this property as historically significant is a final determination made years ago. All such designations were made years ago. Those decisions carried the full weight of the City and GPL without exception. It would have to suffered some form of damage or detriment in order to be removed from the list. The councilors had reason to know that that past decision is binding. It would be against public interest to change any designation at the whim of someone's ego.
If it is in disrepair, the PMA should have known that before they acquired the structure. It seems obvious that our art museum has eyes on all of the buildings there at Congress Square. I have never been impressed by our tiny minimalistic museum and now their egotistical motives has been forced to the surface.

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