First of all, I'll be the first to admit that I may be way, way more passionate about Blazers basketball than the average person reading this architecture blog.
But it's a funny coincidence that the front page of today's Oregonian leads with a story by Ryan Frank called "Cultivating the Rose Quarter" on the morning after Blazers owner Paul Allen has inexplicably, ruinously, crazily fired general manager Kevin Pritchard, a veritable folk hero to Blazer fans who also is considered by NBA officials across the league as one of the best.
Consider this opening passage about Allen and the Rose Quarter in Frank's article:
"On a summer day in 1993, Portland Mayor Vera Katz and Trail Blazers owner Paul Allen piloted backhoes to unearth the city's next riverfront district.
Katz and Allen celebrated the team's new $262 million arena. But just as important, executives said, the team planned to dig up nearby parking lots and building restaurants, shops and more.
Seventeen years later, Allen and the Blazers enjoy a successful home court in the Rose Garden. But the surrounding district is still a garden of blacktop."
Clearly the firing of Kevin Pritchard and the ongoing issue of redeveloping the Rose Quarter are two separate stories. But they both have caused a great amount of bad blood amongst Portlanders. The connecting thread? Paul Allen.
It's true that for more than a year, as I and others in the Friends of Memorial Coliseum group have fought to preserve that building, the Trail Blazers franchise ultimately became an ally in the preservation effort. The team initially gave lukewarm approval to Merritt Paulson and Mayor Adams's plan to demolish the Coliseum, but then both parties backed away and the Blazers created a plan to preserve the building. They deserve full credit for that. When the two other finalists in the Stakeholder Advisory Committee process proposed projects that would more or less destroy the interior (MARC) or the interior and exterior (VMAAC), the Blazer plan offered the one sensible redevelopment of the Coliseum as arena.
Image courtesy Flickr.com
But the Trail Blazers don't have to be the only entity to preserve the Coliseum. And even if they do continue to act as manager of the arena on behalf of the City of Portland (which owns the building), does that mean we should give Paul Allen's company the chance to redevelop the rest of the Rose Quarter?
The hideous and horribly functioning present state of the Rose Quarter would be reason enough not to let Allen's company be the redeveloper or overseer of this redevelopment. When you add to it the fact that they've aligned with the Cordish Company as developer, whose experience is in suburban-style, national-chain-heavy environments, that is at least strike two. But when you add to this toxic brew an owner who is increasingly seen as an isolated, arrogant, out-of-touch, vicious, insensitive owner, it becomes a very, very difficult case to make that his anti-Midas touch should be allowed to blemish anything else here.
It pains me to write a lot of this, because I actually have a very positive opinion of the other people in the Blazers front office in Portland. In the past year of the Memorial Coliseum preservation campaign, I've had the opportunity to get to know J.E. Isaac, the Trail Blazers senior vice president of business affairs; Sarah Mensah, the team's chief marketing officer; and Bill Evans, the director of corporate communications. All three have struck me as good people who care about the local community and want to do right by our city. Unlike Allen, they live in the Portland area and have invested themselves here. But these poor folks have been wronged by Allen and Vulcan as much as the rest of us. It's too bad they work for a modern-day Howard Hughes.
Again, I know some of you reading this will see only my anger and emotion over the firing yesterday of general manager Kevin Pritchard. But there is indeed a legitimate, sober case to be made that the Pritchard incident is but the latest in a long, nearly two-decade-long string of disappointing management decisions by the organizations Paul Allen leads.
The Rose Quarter lies in the heart of central Portland. It is the largest and most important transit hub on the east side, and it has festered as a vast landscape of concrete and empty restaurants for too long. The district doesn't just need a facelift, but an utter transformation, with a vibrant riverfront scene, a mix of uses (including housing), and capable designers. It needs a planning process tied to the adjoining neighborhoods and city fabric (as Barry Johnson wrote in his excellent recent post on the Rose Quarter.) And it needs a development team who commands unequivocal faith and possesses the utmost integrity. Does that sound like a job for Paul Allen?