Last Friday, January 8, was the deadline for submitting proposals to the City's Rose Quarter Stakeholder Advisory Committee for redeveloping Memorial Coliseum and the Rose Quarter.
Many ideas have now been submitted, from a roller coaster to an aquarium. But there seem to be two serious, viable proposals currently being offered: the Trail Blazers' "Jumptown" scheme, and developer Douglas Obletz's Memorial Athletic Recreation Complex.
First we'll start by looking at Jumptown and then, in the days ahead, look in depth at the MARC and any other proposals that seem to have a chance of going forward.
As it happens, both Jumptown and the MARC are surprisingly similar. Although neither scheme started out this way, both now include (1) an approximately 7,000-seat arena; (2) a sports museum; and (3) facilities for amateur fitness and recreation.
The first major difference between Jumptown and the MARC is Jumptown's broader scope. Although I believe this stage of the Advisory Committee process only called for ideas pertaining to Memorial Coliseum, Jumptown is an entire scheme for the Rose Quarter and even beyond. It envisions new buildings along the waterfront across Interstate Avenue. It imagines a new residential neighborhood north of Broadway where the massive, aging Portland Public Schools headquarters now exists. And within the Rose Quarter itself, Jumptown imagines a mix of hotel and entertainment space.
The Jumptown scheme divides the district into sub-areas such as "The Yard", consisting of the two arenas, and "Jump Street", consisting of restaurants and bars just north of the two arenas where they meet Broadway.
As has been reported by various media looking at Jumptown, the area would also include a new practice facility for the Trail Blazers, and these basketball courts and exercise areas would also be made available to the public.
With former Nike executive Larry Miller heading the team, the Blazers have also made ties with the Swoosh to possibly bring in a museum. Whether this would be a museum devoted to the history of Nike itself or to sport or Oregon sport in general is unclear. My guess is that Nike would simply take over the Oregon Sports Museum and brand it with the Swoosh. As a sports fan myself, I wouldn't mind seeing the likes of Steve Prefontaine, Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods immortalized in this museum, but I'd rather it be the likes of Prefontaine, Dan Fouts and Bill Walton.
Then there is the veterans memorial, which the Blazers are contemplating moving to the northwest corner of the Rose Quarter beside the Broadway Bridge. Their proposal has this to say about the veterans:
"Our current work-in-progress approach focuses on creating better access, visibility and connectivity for the memorial aspects of the Coliseum. We intend to meet this objective in several ways. First, we’re considering a new park-like setting as a memorial, perhaps on the parcel adjacent to the Broadway Bridge, to honor Oregon veterans of all wars, not just those who served prior to 1960. Our hope is that the new space will foster contemplation and remembrance, while better connecting the memorial to the river, an important part of Portland’s shipbuilding past. Second, we believe a new iconic memorial element at the entrance to the Veterans Memorial Coliseum at concourse level will increase visibility and prominence. Third, we will designate a large meeting space in the building, accessible at all hours, specifically for veterans’ gatherings and other uses as veterans see fit. Veterans have requested that this element—originally proposed during the initial construction 50 years ago—be incorporated into our approach."
I'm still trying to digest all these schemes, words, plans and ideas regarding Jumptown. But at first glance, I see things to be both excited and wary about. In terms of wary, there is the fact that the Jumptown scheme seems to remove Memorial Coliseum's entry canopy, which is protected in the building's National Register listing and is an essential part of the architecture. I also worry about this big investment in a commercial district that, based on the involvement of The Cordish Company (the Blazers' development partner) could be crassly corporate, banal and (if I may lay down a rancid stereotype) a magnet for overgrown frat boys from the suburbs.
At the same time, one has to applaud how far the Blazers have come since first discussing an entertainment zone inside the Coliseum itself. They now are committed to preserving the building as a multi-purpose arena, with only nominal changes to the seating bowl itself (something called a "party platform" at the top of the bowl). What's more, they have hired one of this generation's most talented yet underutilized architects in Portland: Rick Potestio. Having Rick on the Blazers' team helps give the Coliseum a watchdog against the ill-advised whims of Cordish.
I want to be careful about passing judgment one way or the other on Jumptown just yet. When it comes to Memorial Coliseum, I am not just an impartial blogger or journalist but an advocate for the building as part of the Friends of Memorial Coliseum leadership. What's more, it is impossible to separate completely the plans for the building versus plans for the larger Jumptown district and scheme. So far what I see is a preserved Memorial Coliseum, and I like that (the removed canopy not withstanding). I also like the density that would be added to the Rose Quarter with a highrise hotel and other projects. There hasn't yet been enough rigor applied to Jumptown other than the Coliseum to judge whether the architecture itself would be good or bad. It seems too large and ambitious at first glance, but first glances sometimes don' tell you much.
One also must touch upon the process itself. The SAC's deliberations will ultimately give way to a request for proposals - essentially acknowledging that at the end of the day this is a private, for-profit initiative. But Memorial Coliseum is a public building, and thus it's arguable that it should not be treated as a for-profit venture. I'd rather see an RFP for the rest of the Rose Quarter but something less profit oriented for the Coliseum. At the same time, I wouldn't want the process to give our beloved Blazers enough animosity or frustration to consider leaving town.
Over the days and weeks ahead, I'll be giving Jumptown further scrutiny and encourage you to do the same. And for those interested in making their voice heard (other than in Portland Architecture's lovely comments section) or just learning more about the Coliseum, PDC is hosting folks from 5:30 to 8:30 at Memorial Coliseum on January 26.