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Coliseum renovation vote postponed again

Mayor Charlie Hales pulled the renovation plan for Veterans Memorial Coliseum off this week's City Council agenda, effectively delaying the project at least a year.

The City Council was scheduled to vote Wednesday on a $31.5 million renovation plan developed by former Mayor Sam Adams. Before he left office at the end of last year, Adams scheduled a vote on the plan for Thursday, March 13. But Hales pulled the item from the agenda and referred it to his office.

Hales spokesman Dana Haynes said the decision was a "clock management issue," not a change in position by Hales on the wisdom of the Coliseum renovations. But delaying the decision means renovations won't be done this summer and will be pushed off until next summer, Haynes said.

Shortly after Adams took office as mayor four years ago, the council agreed to replace the aging Coliseum with a new stadium for the Portland Beavers baseball team. The council relented, however, after architects and historical preservationists launched a campaign to save the coliseum.

Adams then came up with the renovation plan two years ago. Among other things, it would replace the plumbing, wiring, seats, and heating and cooling systems. The plan also called for renovating the restrooms, adding more restaurants, and replacing the ice skating surface used by the Portland Winterhawks hockey team, the Coliseum's anchor tenant.

The plan called for funding the renovations with $17.1 million in urban renewal funds from the Portland Development Commission, a $4.4 million city loan to be repaid in 20 years with ticket-tax and parking revenue generated from events, and $10 million from the Winterhawks.

Hales has been engrossed with budget deliberations, particularly how to plug a general fund deficit estimated at $25 million.

A new hearing date has not been announced.

Winterhawks say problems overblown

Adams originally scheduled a council hearing on the plan for last November. But then the Western Hockey League imposed huge sanctions on the Winterhawks for multiple rule violations. The sanctions — believed to be the most severe in league history — include a $200,000 fine, the suspension of the General Manager and Head Coach Mike Johnson for the remainder of the 2012-2013 season, and prohibitions against participating in the first five rounds of the 2013 WHL Bantam Draft and the first rounds of the 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017 WHL Bantam drafts.

When the sanctions caused some council members to question the financial viability of the team, Adams canceled the hearing. Winterhawks President Doug Piper says the team’s future and commitment to Portland was never in any doubt, however.

“We are doing very well and are very committed to the Portland market,” Piper said this week.

Piper says the Winterhawks are prepared to fulfill their $10 million commitment to the renovation process, even though the WHL board of directors refused to lift or reduce the sanctions last week at its meeting in Las Vegas.

Among other things, Piper says the team is very pleased that the city went ahead and replaced the ice plant and floor in the coliseum during the summer. The skating surface was also increased from 185 to 200 feet, the size required for National Hockey League teams.

The rest of the renovation work has now been deferred.