Memorial Coliseum gets new lease on life

City leaders planning upgrades, not razing as Winter Hawks, concerts boost arena

Rumors of Memorial Coliseum's death were greatly exaggerated, apparently.

Two years ago, as city leaders were considering how the city's aging and money-losing facility might be renovated, there were some not-so-quiet whispers that the building might need to be demolished.

Basic and necessary fixes to the major systems in the building, constructed in 1960, could cost upward of $10 million, city officials said two years ago. And this for a building that was getting diminishing use and was losing money for Paul Allen's Oregon Arena Corp., which was operating it.

But now, the city is planning to significantly increase its spending on the building. City officials plan to spend $3 million on it over the next six years - $500,000 this year and an equal amount for each of the next five years.

The city this year has upgraded the coliseum's concessions equipment, recarpeted meeting rooms, made repairs to the veterans' memorial that is part of the building, and purchased a new cover for the coliseum's ice floor.

Among the projects city officials are considering for the next couple of years: replacing or repairing the ceiling over the main coliseum bowl, work on replacing electrical and plumbing systems, and remodeling restrooms.

David Logsdon, the city's spectator facilities manager, said city officials decided to make significant investments to what some had considered an almost unsalvageable building because 'I think circumstances have changed somewhat.'

When Allen's Oregon Arena Corp. gave up ownership of the Rose Garden two years ago to the creditors who helped Allen finance the construction of the arena, Oregon Arena also gave up its agreement with the city to operate the coliseum.

Allen's creditors formed a company that took over that operating agreement and hired national arena operator Global Spectrum to run the coliseum.

Since then, Global Spectrum has been able to attract more events to the coliseum. 'They've been very successful in generating new events and new activities, concerts in particular,' Logsdon said.

An improving economy also may be part of the reason, Logsdon said.

The Portland Winter Hawks junior hockey team also plays 36 home games in the coliseum.

Jack Donovan, president and part-owner of the Winter Hawks, said city officials had not indicated to him the city would be spending that much money on the building, but said: 'That would be fantastic … you could do an awful lot in the building' with $500,000 per year.

'We'd love to see the old girl start to see a little more action, get a little fixed up,' he said, referring to the coliseum.

Logsdon said the coliseum still has been operating during the last few years at a 'modest loss' for its new managers. The city's operating agreement calls for the city to share in any profits but for the operator to absorb all losses. It also calls for the city, as owner, to make all capital improvements to the building.

And for now, the city is willing to do that, Logsdon said.

'I think until there is a plan that is ready to go that would do something different with the building, right now we're in a pretty good position to keep it operating and keep it alive,' Logsdon said.