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Alternatives abound for coliseums future

SECOND OPINION • A local urban planning expert offers other options for proposed makeover of Memorial Coliseum

Recent news stories have indicated that the choices for future use of Memorial Coliseum have boiled down to what an Oregonian editorial described as the 'pie in the sky' athletic complex proposal recently put forth in the Tribune (Revive Memorial Coliseum as new athletic complex, Insight, May 30) and the 'ham sandwich' Home Depot-Costco retail center.

That menu is too limited and the palate, the place and the public deserve more options.

Over a year ago, I taught a three-month development planning workshop in my class of graduate urban planning and development students in the College of Urban & Public Affairs at Portland State University. We produced four alternative uses for the coliseum that deserve consideration Ñ a headquarters hotel, an arts complex, a sustainable technology center and an urban home center.

In an effort to inform the public debate and assist public policy decision makers, here is a brief summary of the four adaptive reuse plans. Please note that although each of the four proposals incorporates a veteran's memorial as part of the project, that discussion is excluded here.

Headquarters hotel

At the intersection of three light-rail lines, the two main interstate highways and the high-speed rail corridor, and served by more than 12 bus routes within Fareless Square, a 650-room headquarters hotel built within the glass box would permit conventioneers to take light rail straight from the airport to their hotel and convention center and easily go downtown.

When intercity high-speed rail is built, the hotel's west side would become the front door to Portland.

Reusing the enormous glass box, measuring 3 1/4 blocks square and more than seven stories high, the project is conceived as a hotel inside a botanic garden.

Unlike enclosed central atrium hotels, four glazed-corner atria would look out over the city and across the Willamette, each forming a microclimate representing the diversity of Oregon biomes.

Every room would have a view. Cafes and restaurants would fill the base of each atrium and would become inviting places open to the public 24 hours a day Ñ much more accessible than even wholly public uses.

Unlike the potential headquarters hotel sites across Northeast Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard from the Oregon Convention Center, the coliseum is visible from Interstate 5 and from downtown, primary criteria for hotels. And since a headquarters hotel cannot survive on convention business alone, its short five-minute walk from the convention center through three existing public plazas gives it just enough separation to attract Rose Garden visitors, business travelers and tourists.

The hotel is feasible because the city owns the land, building and parking, which it need not finance; improvements can be financed with tax-exempt revenue bonds, and no new taxes or subsidies are required.

Portland Memorial Arts Center

At a time when Oregon Ballet Theatre, Portland Opera, Portland Center Stage theater company and the Oregon Symphony are entertaining the idea of acquiring or building their own facilities, Memorial Coliseum offers the only site where all four could be accommodated at the lowest capital costs and with the greatest operating savings.

In turn, this could lead the organizations to lower ticket prices, expand the market to younger and less affluent groups and achieve greater solvency Ñ a rare feat among arts organizations.

The Portland Memorial Arts Center could adaptively reuse both the existing bowl as well as the glass box, preserving its architectural heritage. The bowl could be divided into four main spaces housing the major users; there still would be enough space for a variety of other uses in the large complex:

• 2,200-seat symphony hall

• 2,000-seat dance and opera house

• 500-seat dramatic theater

• 200-seat black box theater

• 2,000-seat cinema (or up to 10 smaller ones)

In addition, there would be plenty of space for Northwest Film Center studios, cable and broadcasting studios, rehearsal, storage and rentable practice spaces, and restaurants and cafes. Studios could uplink live performances that can increase audiences and income for arts organizations.

Estimated capital costs of the Portland Memorial Arts Center are $47 million, far less than the total of separate facilities. Further income could be generated by leasing space to other tenants besides the four main stakeholders.

Sustainable technology center

The coliseum also can be a place to create an urban center of sustainable technology, applied research, manufacturing and services, which is anchored by energy- and environment-related government offices.

The large footprint and seven-story-plus height of the building can be used to create an urban alternative to suburban flex space, with more than 560,000 square feet of flex space on four suburban-scale 130,000-square-foot floorplates, each floor supported by two parking levels with more than 900 parking spaces.

Furthermore, the 130,000-square-foot floorplates are larger than commonly available in the suburbs.

This incubator plan can create 1,000 to 2,000 jobs in the central city at a location that is especially attractive to creative young urban dwellers.

To make the project feasible, it would be anchored by the energy and environmental programs of nearby government offices and utilities, all of which have headquarters only blocks away, including the Bonneville Power Administration, Metro, TriMet, PacifiCorp, the state and the county, with Portland General Electric, NW Natural and the Port of Portland only minutes away.

The coliseum itself can be rehabilitated to be an outstanding example of adaptive reuse according to the best green building techniques. The roof is large enough to become an efficient eco-roof providing insulation-reducing cooling loads, absorbing storm water and holding a 3.25-acre array of photovoltaic solar collectors providing power to the building.

This sustainable technology center project is economically feasible because the city already owns the land, building and parking. The total development cost is estimated to be $65 million, which includes $14 million for tenant improvement allowances at $25 per square foot.

At discounted rents of less than $9 per square foot, the technology center could produce a net operating-income stream of $4.5 million that could support about $50 million of the capital costs, using tax-exempt industrial revenue bonds to provide low-cost financing.

Urban home center

In March 2002, our development planning workshop described the coliseum as a very 'big box.' At the same time, large-format retailers that have saturated the suburbs are looking to tap into lucrative urban markets but find sites difficult to pin down or neighborhoods resistant to their entry. The coliseum overcomes both of these challenges and offers an urban alternative to the single-level behemoth in a sea of parking.

While it is clear that big-box retailers are profitable and that almost any selection of them could succeed at the heart of a regional market of 1.8 million people with $33 billion of income, we concentrated only on those that were not already represented in the marketplace, would support an urban housing lifestyle and could attract customers both to downtown and to Lloyd Center, acting as a retail bridge between the two.

Should the city approve an urban home center, it should adopt these criteria. These objectives excluded retailers who have saturated the region, such as Costco, Home Depot, Lowe's, Target and Wal-Mart. Rather, we looked at international retailer Ikea, whose nearest location in suburban Seattle attracts many Portlanders.

Ikea's typical minimum store size is 260,000 square feet, which is precisely two floors of the coliseum. Ikea is very open to a two-floor concept, and many of its stores have glass walls. Moreover, the column-free interior space is perfect for large-format retailing. Urban dwellers in smaller apartments and condominiums often use the type of affordable folding and modular furniture that Ikea specializes in.

At a liberal estimated total development cost of $61 million, and with a net operating income of approximately $7 million, an urban home center can be financed privately and can be expected to return at least $3 million to $4 million annually. The city could spend tax income of more than $1 million annually, plus lease revenues on other projects.

Conclusion: Only one of these four options has been pursued by developers, and none have been studied by the city. Before any action is considered and taken by the City Council, the city should thoroughly study these options.

William P. Macht, a developer and development consultant, is an adjunct professor of urban planning and development in the College of Urban & Public Affairs at Portland State University. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .