He's neither a developer nor an architect or businessman. James Harrison is an artist whose large scale public sculptures have received sizable acclaim. He was instrumental in saving the Lovejoy Columns several years ago, and his sculptures have been commissioned for locations ranging from Portland's Eastbank Esplanade to an exclusive club in London called Hospital.
Harrison is one of the 95 parties who have submitted ideas for Memorial Coliseum and the Rose Quarter. Likely his proposal won't be treated as seriously as those from the Trail Blazers or developer Douglas Obletz (who have offered Jumptown and the Memorial Athletic Recreation Complex), simply because he doesn't have the same resources to generate the concept or see it through with funding. Even so, Harrison's "Jumptown Plaza" proposal is more than worth a look.
The Jumptown Plaza scheme is relatively simple, which may be its greatest strength. It looks to preserve Memorial Coliseum as a functioning multipurpose arena. Basically Harrison imagines restoring the arena according to its National Register strictures. The lone exception is a new entry canopy, placed on the south side of the building to better orient it to the Rose Garden and to the riverfront.
If there is a bold, more substantial part of Harrison's plan, it is to replace the Trail Blazers' One Center Court building with a new high-rise tower. I like this idea a lot, because One Center Court is one of the ugliest buildings I have ever seen. It's basically a giant parking garage with a few floors of office above it and a hideous curving roof. What's more, One Center Court takes up a lot of land that could, as Harrison points out in his scheme, become part of a more substantial plaza or public courtyard.
In Harrison's proposed plaza, there would be room for a series of vendors selling food to eat as well as produce. A public market or farmers market could be held here on a regular basis, or there could be a setup for food-cart vendors. (Just a modest series of uniform stalls could eliminate their ugly trailers but maintain the wonderfully Portland spirit of the food cart explosion.) In addition, Harrison envisions a sculptural piece that doubles as a protective cover from the rain.
"To accommodate the Portland ethos," Harrison told me, "it needs to be fine grained and not mega scaled. The Rose Quarter already has the mega scale with the two arenas. It needs that fine grain." By fine grain, he means smaller-scale vendors who operate using a hundred square feet, not ten thousand.
Harrison's scheme also creates a bridge over Interstate Avenue to connect the Rose Quarter with adjacent riverfront property. This is another crucial aspect of any Rose Quarter plan. The property sits next to such a valuable resource in the river. We could have another, only better, Eastbank Esplanade here. It would be a great place to put some of the restaurants or bars the Blazers are envisioning with Jumptown.
Harrison admits that his renderings aren't as sophisticated or extensive as the MARC's, and that his plans for the entire Rose Quarter aren't as ambitious as the Blazers'. Even so, the basic idea of his Jumptown Plaza concept is very sound: Recognize the Coliseum is already a well functioning and beloved resource; enhance the public plaza between the Coliseum and the Rose Quarter; change out the One Center Court building, which is truly the problem here; and create a connection to the river. Problem solved, right?