Adams wants more input before city starts renovations
With a general consensus emerging about the fate of the Memorial Coliseum, Portland architect Stuart Emmons says work needs to begin immediately to take care of maintenance that's been deferred.
Preserving the Memorial Coliseum as a spectator facility is widely accepted as the most financially viable option for the 50-year-old building, which recently received historic landmark designation. Although long-overdue maintenance work could cost $25 million or more, that is far less than it would cost to remodel the coliseum for other purposes.
'Sometimes I think the (Portland City) Council does not understand the depth of the recession. People are hurting. Anything that creates jobs should happen now,' says Emmons, co-founder of Friends of the Memorial Coliseum, the grassroots organization fighting to preserve and rehabilitate the building.
Because the city owns the building, maintenance work could begin at any time, funded in part by money from the overlapping Oregon Convention Center Urban Renewal Area. But Mayor Sam Adams wants the City Council to sign off on general redevelopment guidelines for at least part of the surrounding area first, largely to make sure everyone is on the same page.
'I have been working to come up with a concept to realize the full potential of that part of town,' Adams says.
To help draft such guidelines, Adams is inviting Portlanders to two public forums this month about redeveloping the Rose Quarter - a district that also contains the Rose Garden arena, home of the Portland Trail Blazers. The first is a meeting of the Rose Quarter Stakeholder Advisory Committee on Tuesday, Nov. 9. The second is an open house at the Memorial Coliseum on Nov. 15.
The meetings are intended to narrow the options for approximately 19 acres of underdeveloped land near the Memorial Coliseum and Rose Garden arena. Some of the land is owned by the city, including two parking garages that front North Broadway. Other parcels are private property, including the site of a former motel along the Willamette River that is owned by Vulcan, a development company operated by Trail Blazer owner Paul Allen.
During the past year, many ideas have been discussed for the underdeveloped areas. Small ones include installing a public ice rink in the plaza between the Memorial Coliseum and the Rose Garden. At the other end of the scale, the Trail Blazers have proposed turning the Rose Quarter into an entertainment district with an outdoor stage and new bars, restaurants and retail stores.
J. Isaac, the Trail Blazers senior vice president for business affairs, says discussions are continuing with the Portland Development Commission, focusing on where and how to phase in the Rose Quarter vision. Some of the newest ideas could be discussed at the Nov. 9 advisory committee meeting.
Adams is also interested in discussing the future of other adjacent areas, including the site of the Portland Public Schools headquarters west of Broadway and TriMet's simple transit center east of the Rose Garden. But the Rose Garden guidelines can move forward independent of any decisions regarding those two properties.
A preliminary version of a Rose Quarter District Plan could be presented to the council by December, with work beginning on the Memorial Coliseum early next year.
Showing its age
Discussions about the future of the Memorial Coliseum have followed a winding - and occasionally baffling - path for several years.
When the Memorial Coliseum opened in 1960, it was embraced as a state-of-the-art spectator facility. It eventually became the home of the Trail Blazers and the minor league Portland Winterhawks hockey team. It also has hosted many large events every year - ranging from concerts to rodeos to the start of the annual Rose Festival Grand Floral Parade.
But by the time the Rose Garden opened in 1995, the Memorial Coliseum was showing its age. Although the Winterhawks stayed and other events continued to be held there, the council did not seem to know what to do with the coliseum. Regular maintenance declined, but the city did allow the Trail Blazers to manage both arenas.
The Rose Garden was built and owned by Vulcan. The council originally allowed Allen and his company to design much of the area around the two arenas. A building with two restaurants was constructed on the north side of the plaza. The restaurants, which failed to attract many customers when there were no events at the Memorial Coliseum and Rose Garden, eventually closed. Now, the Rose Quarter is largely deserted except for people coming and going to the two arenas.
The council began considering alternatives for the area under Mayor Vera Katz. Ideas included restoring the original street grid system and turning the Memorial Coliseum into an athletic facility or big-box store. None of them captured the imagination of the council or public, however, and the status quo continued until early 2009, when Adams and the City Council again considered the Memorial Coliseum's fate as they arranged for Major League Soccer to come to town.
A plan to tear down the coliseum to make way for a baseball stadium hit stiff public opposition, and that led to a public process to decide the coliseum's future. Most members of the ensuing advisory committee eventually agreed the coliseum should stay the same - meaning the deferred maintenance work should finally begin.
Entire district under study
Adams, however, wants to make sure that preserving Memorial Coliseum is consistent with future development in the Rose Quarter and surrounding area. Ideally, Adams says, the entire area could be redeveloped as a multi-use neighborhood with entertainment centers and good access to transit.
But no comprehensive financing plan has yet been developed. The Oregon Convention Center Urban Renewal Area has approximately $20 million in capacity that could be committed to such projects before it expires in 2013. The Portland Development Commission is also overseeing a public involvement process that could extend the existing Interstate Corridor Urban Renewal Area onto the properties, making a yet-to-be determined amount of additional public financing available.
Still, private partners would have to participate. The Trail Blazers have development rights to some of the city-owned parcels in the Rose Quarter that are set to expire Nov. 24. The advisory committee, however, directed Adams to negotiate an extension for the Blazers. The committee is expected to take the issue up at its Nov. 9 meeting.
The Trail Blazers have worked with the out-of-state Cordish development company on its Jump Town proposal. They agreed to participate in the public comment process before deciding how to proceed. Even if the advisory committee extends the Trail Blazers' development rights on Nov. 9, it could be months before specific plans emerge. But if the council signs off on an overall vision for the Rose Quarter that includes preserving the Memorial Coliseum as a spectator facility, maintenance work on it could start early next year.