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Coliseum plans must light up city

The city of Portland's longtime dream of creating a lively entertainment district within the Rose Quarter stands its best chance of moving forward now that there is a serious effort afoot to redevelop the aging Memorial Coliseum.

A repurposed coliseum will by itself draw new attention to the Rose Quarter and could spur additional investment in the district. However, no coliseum plan should gain approval unless it is fully compatible with a far-reaching and compelling vision for what the Rose Quarter can become.

During the next few weeks, the City Council will consider the merits of three rival proposals for redeveloping the city-owned coliseum. Those plans - the Memorial Athletic and Recreation Center, the Veterans Memorial Arts and Athletics Center and a third concept put forward by the Portland Trail Blazers and the Portland Winterhawks - were chosen by a stakeholders group from a larger pool of candidates.

Each of the plans has its merits, but to date, only the Blazers/Winterhawks concept has been developed as one piece of a larger development plan for the entire Rose Quarter.

The Ghost Quarter

Memorial Coliseum's fate came fiercely to the surface last year, when a proposal to demolish the nearly 50-year-old structure in favor of constructing a minor league baseball stadium was opposed and ultimately stopped by the coliseum's defenders - including veterans groups and architects.

But while the message was unmistakable at the time that many people wanted the coliseum preserved, there was no defined strategy for how to ensure that the coliseum could remain viable in the shadow of its larger and newer counterpart, the Rose Garden arena.

Even less clear was a direction for the Rose Quarter - which, despite being the home of both the coliseum and the Rose Garden, might as well be known as the Ghost Quarter when games or concerts aren't in motion.

All the way back to 1995, when the Rose Garden arena opened, Portlanders have been promised bars, restaurants and a beehive of activity around the arena. But most of that never occurred - and the little bit of nightlife that did emerge also didn't last long.

During the years, there have been city-sponsored studies to consider possible redevelopment, but nothing has come of any of them. What's different now? For one, the city is committed to revamping the coliseum. For another, Portland Streetcar will soon travel alongside the Rose Quarter as it crosses the Broadway Bridge. Both should provide the impetus to do even more in the Rose Quarter.

Consider larger picture

The Blazer organization understands this desire to have the Rose Quarter finally reach its potential, and it has come forward with an enticing overall plan for what it is calling 'JumpTown.' This concept envisions not only a revitalized coliseum, but also a covered plaza with a permanent stage, retail spaces built into the existing parking garages, a boutique hotel, restaurants, nightclubs and other entertainment venues. In other words: vibrant activity in place of all-too-often empty spaces.

The largest obstacle for anyone's Rose Quarter plan is finding the money to pay for the public improvements needed to accompany private ventures. Expansion of urban renewal is a possibility, and in this case we believe the targeted area meets the qualifications for such an infusion of public funds.

It is yet to be determined whether the concept put forth by the Blazers and the Winterhawks is the best vision specifically for Memorial Coliseum. However, no proposal for the coliseum should be considered in isolation from its surroundings. If urban renewal is used, specific efforts to integrate a revitalized Rose Quarter into neighborhoods in North and Northeast Portland must be part of the effort.

The City Council, which will make the final decision in this matter, must measure how each of the finalist plans could act as a catalyst for a more robust Rose Quarter of the future.