Memorial Coliseum: City Council vote May 7 (and other updates)
As reported Monday by the Daily Journal of Commerce's Sam Bennett, the City Council has scheduled a vote for next Thursday, May 7 Wednesday, May 6, on a pre-development agreement to go ahead with renovations for PGE Park in order to make it ready for Major League Soccer by 2011.
How does this relate to Memorial Coliseum? If the vote on PGE Park is de-coupled from the issue of building a baseball stadium at the Rose Quarter, that's at least a temporary victory in that it allows the soccer plan to go through while the Coliseum and Rose Quarter get figured out. If the vote also stipulates a building of the Portland Beavers' minor league baseball stadium in a particular place other than the Memorial Coliseum/Rose Quarter site, like Lents Park or the Terminal 1 site in Northwest Portland near the Fremont Bridge, that's of course the ultimate victory for the Coliseum.
One thing to say about the baseball stadium itself: Those of us involved in the grassroots effort to save Memorial Coliseum have more or less decided that it's folly for us to get too involved in debating the merits of any particular non-Rose Quarter location for the baseball stadium. Lents, for example, has many things going for it, but like any site, there are complicating factors. To work towards preserving Memorial Coliseum is our greater focus. And if City Council decides that the Coliseum is untouchable, or at least not to be demolished, then the baseball stadium location becomes moot to our preservation effort.
Although much of the debate about saving the Coliseum has been focused on aesthetics, the preservation debate also requires pragmatic talk about economics.
Portland State University real estate professor William Macht's research shows that the Coliseum has tremendous untapped economic potential in its current form: as an arena. If the City were to re-write the management agreement so there's no longer a disincentive for Oregon Arena Corporation (the Blazers' Rose Garden and Coliseum manager) to turn a profit on the Coliseum, it could host many more events and thus bring in revenue for long-overdue repairs.
The Blazers are said to be seeking an open-air music venue. In June, July and August, that would be terrific. But what about the rain-inclined other nine months of the year? A better plan would be to turn Memorial Coliseum into an indoor-outdoor venue. Perhaps the riverfront facade could be opened up, or even a retractible roof installed.
The Blazers have also discussed putting their planned "Live!" entertainment in the Coliseum, mostly restaurants and bars. Making this work is not an impossibility, but there is strong reason to be very skeptical about how this would taint the Coliseum's architecture. A better plan would be to make the Coliseum, still as an arena, into the centerpiece of a redevelopment scheme surrounding it. Put the "Live!" stuff on the river to better integrate the Rose Quarter wit the huge untapped potential of the waterfront at the old Thunderbird motel, or on the grounds of the Rose Quarter between and around the two arenas.
As far as anyone knows, the City Council vote comes down to a split with Commissioner Dan Saltzman in the middle. Amanda Fritz and Nick Fish seem to be against Memorial Coliseum's demolition, while Commissioner Randy Leonard and Mayor Sam Adams are either for its demolition or undecided, given that Lents could still be the chosen destination for the baseball stadium.
From Adams' perspective, the Rose Quarter initially seemed like the means for getting a baseball stadium deal done. But to his credit, the Mayor listened to the thundering chorus of voices opposing Memorial Coliseum's demolition. (Polls by KEX radio and the Portland Tribune found a more than 8-to-1 opposition to the demolition plan.) It probably would best serve the mayor to get any kind of deal done, be it a baseball stadium in Lents or elsewhere, before the June 30 date arrives and the chance for his opponents to issue a recall campaign. The mayor risks further incurring the ire of those seeking proper time for a more drawn-out Portland style process if he goes too fast, but having this issue resolved would serve him even better.
Meanwhile, those seeking to join the Memorial Coliseum preservation effort are encouraged to keep the pressure on City Council by emailing all 5 members and asking them to save this gem.
To that end, as you can see in the pictures accompanied in this post (the first two were taken by the legendary architectural photographer Julius Schulman - the latter scanned as best we could over a two-page fold, and the final one is of the Coliseum's construction), we're continuing to unearth pictures of our beloved Coliseum that better articulate what make it special. Not only is this a pure and beautiful glass box, but watching an event in the seating bowl can be done during daytime with natural light pouring into the space. Think about it for a minute: of all the basketball games or arts performances or political rallies you've ever been to anywhere in the world, how many of them could daylight one of those performances?