Failed HVAC in Portland concert hall costs thousands in lost ticket sales, venue changes

The HVAC system in the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall failed, leaving Metro to scramble for pricy solutions to keep the venue cool.
Published: May. 17, 2023 at 5:49 PM PDT
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PORTLAND Ore. (KPTV) - This stretch of warm weather has been a reminder of what’s to come this summer, but it couldn’t have come at a worse time for people visiting or performing at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall.

The HVAC system in their building was expected to last for at least two more years, but right before this spring heat, their cooling tower failed, leaving Metro to scramble for solutions to keep the venue cool.

“This just was a traumatic, one-time experience that crashed it and it’s irreparable,” Steve Faulstick, Metro’s general manager of visitor venues, said.

Faulstick says it’ll likely be six to eight months before they can fully replace the cooling tower so they’re installing a temporary, portable chiller right outside on Southwest Salmon Street until then.

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“It’s a large unit that’s on a trailer that will be on Salmon street with a generator, fenced off. That’s the interim fix. Then that’s piped into the building,” Faulstick said.

Before that’s officially up and running, that means the sun has been beaming down into the concert hall during hot days, making it too toasty for some performances to go on. Events like “An Evening with Tom Hanks” and the Oregon Symphony have had to move to the Keller Auditorium.

“It’s been a little on the warm side, but it’s been doable. This last weekend, when temperatures hit 90 degrees, it just wasn’t possible,” Scott Showalter, the president of the Oregon Symphony, said.

Showalter said the last-minute move has already cost them more than $30,000 because of a few reasons, including refunds, paying musicians more for performing in the heat, and for switching venues.

He hopes this solution is successful, because if it doesn’t cool down, the Keller Auditorium is booked up for the rest of their season and they won’t have a space to perform in.

“If we are to lose ticket revenue for missed concerts this weekend, we’ll be in the six figures, and god forbid we were to miss the rest of the season, we’re into seven figures and that is devastating. That will jeopardize our ability to stage next season,” Showalter said.

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Which Showalter said wouldn’t just be a loss for them, but for surrounding businesses.

“We need the Oregon Symphony to be downtown to drive traffic and help to revitalize the city of Portland,” he said.

However, Faulstick says the chiller is expected to work just fine.

“We’ve been assured that this interim fix will in fact get the building to appropriate cooling levels on a consistent basis,” Faulstick said.