Memorial Coliseum, photo by Brian Libby
Nathalie Weinstein reports in Tuesday's Daily Journal of Commerce that the Request for Proposals process for the redevelopment of Memorial Coliseum has been suspended until further notice. The city will now move forward to the next phase of the Rose Quarter Development Project.
The three finalists generated by the city's Stakeholder Advisory Committee - the Blazers/Winterhawks proposal, the Memorial Athletic and Recreation Center and the Veterans Memorial Arts and Athletic Center - were encouraged by Mayor Sam Adams to prepare a joint RFP for renovating the coliseum. But in those meetings, says PDC project manager Kevin Brake in Weinstein's article, the teams and the PDC realized that budgets for two of the proposals - the MARC and VMAAC - would far exceed the $24 million in public money available for the project, and the likelihood of a voter approved general obligation bond, such as recommended by the MARC team, seems challenging in this economic climate.
Upon hearing the news, I was jubilant but inquisitive: Does this mean Memorial Coliseum has been saved, I wondered? Well, yes and no. The city is continuing with the overall Rose Quarter redevelopment process, and an RFP could still be issued down the road for the Coliseum. But based on what I've been told in talking with Brake and others, I think that's unlikely.
"When we’ve looked at programmatic elements….we wanted to be sure we’re setting realistic expectations of what can reasonably fit in the Coliseum," Brake told me by phone. "More and more it seems that keeping the bowl is the most supported option both from a preservation and cost standpoint. But we see those programmatic elements could have a place in the Rose Quarter Development."
In other words, the city likes some of the programming ideas that were introduced by two finalists, the MARC and the VMAAC: amateur athletic and arts facilities. But fitting either of those programs into the Coliseum is looking to be too challenging - not to mention too much of a battle with preservationists and the Coliseum's protection under the National Register of Historic Places. Yet if MARC, the VMAAC or both proposers could help find a way to get their proposals to fit elsewhere in the Rose Quarter, be it along the riverfront where a parking lot now sits or on the site of two hideous above-ground parking garages, versions of their plans could still make it into the finished Rose Quarter.
"We’ve got [MARC proponent] Doug Obletz saying he can bring USA swimming to the table to create a regional center for swimming which could mean up to $20M in additional funding," Brake added. "Sandwiching that in the bowl seems challenging given their programmatic requirements. But we want to explore it in a collaborative way. But what are people’s thoughts? Do we want a large athletic recreation facility? And how does that relate to the rest of the city? We need to evaluate the total need for any of these programmatic elements through a thorough market analysis."
One example of how some collaboration could work: The Blazers talked about bring on Nike as a partner for an interactive museum of some sort. Wouldn't that jive really well with the amateur athletic facilities proposed in the MARC plan? Just do it outside the Coliseum and I'd support that marriage in a heartbeat.
So the Rose Quarter development process continues, as it should. This is a huge development in the center of the city that desperately needs to be re-imagined and made more of a thriving district where people live, work and play. There is plenty of room to accommodate a spectrum of programmatic functions in this massive parcel of land. It seems to me the city has figured out that it makes more sense to develop the under-utilized portions of the Rose Quarter than the one irreplaceable gem that was already there: Memorial Coliseum. What's more, the MC and the Rose Garden can function well as complimentary arenas. We just need the right mix of other programmatic functions around them, whether it's an affordable housing tower like local developer Randy Rapaport has proposed, a large hotel like the mayor and others have advocated (tied to the Convention Center), or more entertainment venues.
Memorial Coliseum, photo by Brian Libby
I would dearly love to say at this point, "It's over! Memorial Coliseum is saved! Let the party begin!" Quite honestly, I'm not yet sure if we've arrived at that point. But it's clear we are closer than ever before to being able to declare total victory in the preservation of this internationally renowned architectural diamond in the rough, a secular cathedral of modernist mastery, and the sacred ground where the Trail Blazers won a championship and the Beatles played.