This month the Rose Quarter Citizens Advisory Committee will begin accepting proposals for how to re-invigorate Memorial Coliseum (the latter of which is pictured above in an early rendering by architect Skidmore, Owings and Merrill).
"We expect to have a range of different proposers," the Portland Development Commission's Kia Selley told Architectural Daily, Sam Bennett's blog. She added that this stage of the proposal process is “intended to be welcoming to people who don’t have a lot of development experience to get their concept out there.” Proposals are due by December 1, after which PDC will issue a request for proposals from a short list of favored ideas.
Meanwhile, timed perfectly with the opening of the proposal stage is the Portland Trail Blazers entry, dubbed "Jumptown".
The name is borrowed from the nickname this area of town had in the early to mid-20th Century when, instead of two arenas, it was home to a largely African American neighborhood and several jazz clubs like The Dude Ranch and The Chicken Coop.
The plan for Jumptown, according to its website, is "a vibrant community gathering place at the intersection of sports, music and entertainment, one that pays homage to the rich musical heritage of Portland’s eastside. Representing world-class design and best practices in green construction and operations, the project will also appropriately honor the State’s veterans."
In reality, that appears to mean preserving Memorial Coliseum but shrinking the size of its seating bowl. The Blazers want a roughly 7,000-seat arena rather than the 11,000-seat one that was originally built. In that scenario, I'd just hope they do it in a manner that changes the appearance of the bowl as little as possible. One way might be to remove seats from the bottom rather than the top, which would be less invasive to the bowl form. Another way might be to re-do the seating, giving each seat more size and leg room.
The team also envisions "music events, a variety of residential, hotel and office space, diverse retail and restaurant amenities and, potentially, a one-of-a-kind Nike interactive experience." These amenities would take up existing empty space in the Rose Quarter.
As an editorial in today's Oregonian noted, the Jumptown proposal has not articulated how much public investment would be required, and there are still questions about how the district would stay vital when there isn't an event at either arena. (The editorial was incorrect, however, in calling Memorial Coliseum "often empty". It hosted as many events as the Rose Garden last year, despite not getting the maintenance and upkeep that its bigger sister receives regularly.)
There is a lot to like - or at least some good potential to be found - in the Jumptown proposal.
For starters, the Blazers seem to have moved away from their original discussions about removing all of Memorial Coliseum's seating bowl for bars and restaurants. Instead, they see the MC being what it is: a simple, sculptural bowl in a box that represents the best of American 20th century contemporary architecture. That's very encouraging.
What's more, the idea of a hotel on the Rose Quarter site seems inspired. It would help bring activity to the district during the crucial there's-no-game-or-concert-happening periods. It seems unlikely that Portland will build a massive headquarters hotel in this area like Mayor Adams wants, but adding a regular sized hotel here would be a step in that direction without such massive subsidies.
A Nike interactive museum could act as a very successful magnet for the district. The Oregon Sports Hall of Fame was a dismal failure and a tremendous disappointment when it was located downtown near the Multnomah County Courthouse. If Nike could give Oregon a higher quality sports museum, it would be a huge cultural boom for the city and would finally, finally give the athletics giant a more substantial connection with Portland after sequestering itself in a bermed-in Beaverton campus for the last few decades. (The Oregon Ducks' last two football uniform designs could be part of an exhibit called "What not to do: adventures in faux diamond plating and gladiatorial wings." But in fairness, another exhibit could profile the perfect genius of their 'O' logo design.)
It's not to say that the Blazers should be given a free pass on Jumptown without further articulation of their plans. The team could still wind up altering the Coliseum's seating bowl far too much, or their development partner in Baltimore, the Cordish Company, could wind up suggesting some sort of ill-advised addition to the Coliseum's exterior that looks as hideous as the One Center Court building that the team built next door to the Rose Quarter.
Even so, in talking with the Blazers from time to time, I've been pleasantly surprised and undeniably impressed with team leaders like team president Larry Miller and vice president J.E. Isaac. These are not yes men taking orders from Paul Allen and Vulcan, or pushovers acquiescing to their developer's crass, heavy handed design sensibilities. They've been working with a talented local architect, Rick Potestio, as a design advisor (as well as Nike's Tinker Hatfield), and hopefully that will yield fruit.
Meanwhile, though, I'm skeptical about the mayor's Citizens Advisory Committee receiving any other serious proposals. Sure, there have been ideas for a velodrome or an arts center, but I'm yet to see any evidence of full-on submissions being made for these or other ideas with funding mechanisms in place. Anyone can suggest an idea, but ultimately the Committee will only go forward with ideas that have backing. Even the most high-profile alternative idea to the Blazers', developer Douglas Obletz's proposal for a Memorial Amateur Recreation Complex, may not go forward in this city-sanctioned process. And even if there are some ideas proposed, ones with funding in place, the process going forward is PDC's standard developer-driven one. Might something else like a design competition have been better?
Still, we've come a long way from the days earlier this spring when Timbers/Beavers owner Merritt Paulson (son of George W. Bush cabinet member Henry Paulson), Mayor Adams and City Commissioner Randy Leonard were trying to build a minor league baseball stadium on the Coliseum site. This would not only have destroyed one of the city's most important architectural landmarks, but it also would have been bad for the Rose Quarter, hosting vastly fewer events than the Coliseum does today and detracting from Portland's rise to become a major-league sports city.
I shouldn't even dignify his childish antics with a response, but it's also disappointing to see Leonard even as recently as this Monday in a Mark Larabee-reported Oregonian story still trying to float the baseball-in-the-Rose-Quarter idea and calling the Coliseum a "Costco". Leonard is in many ways a smart, tough, principled man, but his design sensibility is a laughable embarrassment that represents the worst in an elected official: cynicism, ignorance and arrogance disguised as trite populism. I know Randy Leonard is capable of being a much better City Councilor, and a bigger man, than this.
And in case you think I'm merely vilifying someone who disagrees with yours truly about design, it's not about that. It's not about Leonard's aesthetic opinion versus mine. An overwhelming array of preservation and design organizations, such as the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the US Green Building Council and the American Institute of Architects have all weighed in on this, calling for Memorial Coliseum's preservation.
It's also disappointing that the one group of people other than Leonard who seem to vehemently want to "grenade" Memorial Coliseum, as one commenter put it on the Blazers' Jumptown website, are Timbers soccer team supporters. Perhaps they worry that the Timbers' jump to Major League Soccer will fall apart if the Timbers' reconfiguration of PGE Park as a soccer-only facility is hampered by the Beavers (Paulson owns both teams) not finding a home. I personally would argue against cutting off your nose to spite your face. The best scenario remains for the MC to be preserved, and the Beavers and Timbers each to have a proper home of their own that's not on the Rose Quarter site.
Thankfully, though, despite the questionable effect of the Advisory Committee, the potential lack of properly funded ideas, the challenge of getting the Blazers to listen more to talented local designers than corporate developers, and the smear campaign against a modernist local landmark by one city leader, Memorial Coliseum and the Rose Quarter just might turn out to be a success.