Center for Cultural Exchange for sale


photo/Sean Wilkinson
photo/Sean Wilkinson

Center for Cultural Exchange for sale 
Board reverses earlier pledge to keep property

By Chris Busby

Less than four months after the board of the Center for Cultural Exchange announced it was hiring a new executive director and keeping its Longfellow Square building, the board reversed its decision and announced the building is for sale. 

In a news release e-mailed today, the non-profit arts and cultural organization said previously scheduled programming will continue through July. Executive director Lisa DiFranza, hired in February, will stay on part-time while the group undertakes a “strategic review” of its structure and programs. 

“This was a very difficult but necessary decision for us to make,” board chairman Jay Young said in the e-mail. “The sale of the building will enable us to meet outstanding obligations so we can build a new future for the Exchange on solid financial ground…. We hope to pursue this mission in a new incarnation.” 

DiFranza said in an interview today that past debt accrued under the leadership of founding directors Phyllis O’Neill and Bau Graves contributed to the Center’s ongoing financial burden. The cost of maintaining the Longfellow Square property was another stress on the budget. And DiFranza said the size of the 220-seat performance space made it difficult to offer “quality programming for low prices…. The equation doesn’t match up, sadly.”

Reached by phone today, Young said the organization’s cash reserves are too thin to risk booking the kind of high-caliber, international performers the Center has brought to town in years past – though many established acts reduced their fees to perform at the intimate venue. “Maybe no one’s coming to see the Throat Singers of Tuva,” he said, using a hypothetical example. “[We] can’t take a risk on a big show.”

The city sold the then-tax-delinquent Longfellow Square building to the arts organization in 1997 for $65,000. The group spent hundreds of thousands of dollars renovating the long-neglected property into offices and a performance space that opened in 1999. Its tax-assessed value exceeds $600,000. Young said the property will be on the market as early as June. He doesn’t expect it will sell for much more than its assessed value. 

Portland Mayor Jim Cohen and State Senator Ethan Strimling were among those who applauded the board’s decision to keep the building last February. Young said the board hasn’t approached city or state officials to seek financial support. 

“I think it’s impractical,” Young said. “When we did the press conference [in February], it was gratifying to see support from the political powers that be, but the resources are not there to provide enough in support to keep us going.”

There’s been a “pretty energetic [private] fundraising effort” over the past few months, Young noted, “but even with that, it just seems the model isn’t viable.”

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