UC Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive to open its doors

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Michael Wan/Staff

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The new UC Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, or BAMPFA, will open its doors to the public Sunday, with expectations that it will enhance the economic and cultural vitality of Berkeley.

Located at 2155 Center St. in Downtown Berkeley, the new museum will be within walking distance of the BART station and the west side of the UC Berkeley campus — a highly traversed area that services more than 10,000 people a day, according to a BAMPFA press release.

“I’m thrilled they chose this location on Center Street,” said Lawrence Rinder, director of BAMPFA. “Fantastic location, accessible by BART and campus, visible. … It’s the best location in the world.”

After the former location of BAMPFA on Bancroft Way was deemed seismically unsafe by an engineering survey in 1997, a new site and building were planned at the turn of the century that would be able to safely house the art and film collections.

The $112 million budget for the project came primarily from private donors and philanthropists, according to Rinder. He said the construction of the new museum went smoothly and barely suffered delays, though the largest obstacle came during the 2008 economic recession, when the project managers had to find a new architect because of cost issues.

Rinder explained that Diller Scofidio + Renfro — the architecture firm that designed the building — was hired because of its experience building museums, ability to repurpose the existing Center Street structure into the museum, proven record of staying on budget and successful past projects — including New York City’s urban park High Line.

“(We sought) creative, intelligent, out-of-the-box thinkers,” Rinder said. “We wanted a Berkeley-ish architect, not just a flashy one.”

Councilmember Jesse Arreguin said the city is looking forward to its new addition to his district, as it will not only bring more people Downtown — hence indirectly supporting local businesses — but will also enhance Berkeley’s position as a regional center for arts and culture.

“The city has strongly supported (BAMPFA), as we feel it is critical to revitalization in the Downtown and Downtown’s role in arts and culture,” Arreguin said. “(It will make) Center Street a real destination of our Downtown.”

In addition, Rinder said the city and campus were highly collaborative in building the new BAMPFA.

Michael Caplan, the city’s economic development manager, was enthusiastic about what BAMPFA could contribute to Berkeley’s small businesses and development as a city. He explained how the projected hundreds of thousands of people throughout the Bay Area coming specifically for the museum will also stop at other Berkeley venues, including restaurants and shops.

“This is a really good reason to draw people here,” Caplan said. “It’s going to be (an economic) bump, and it’s going to be a huge bump.”

John Caner, CEO of Downtown Berkeley Association, extolled the project but said his biggest concern with the new museum structure is the lack of parking in the area, as the old university hall garage was demolished to build BAMPFA.

BAMPFA soft openings for students and the press will be held from Thursday to Saturday, followed by a “Community Day” on Sunday, which will feature free admission to the general public.

Alok Narahari is the lead business and economy reporter. Contact him at [email protected].