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Steve Rawley

As I said at the meeting, I came onto the committee with the idea of preserving (and restoring) the Coliseum as a multi-use spectator venue... so there was no need to win me over.

But I think you and Stuart made a great case for total preservation -- not just of the "box"... the whole thing. It's too early to tell, but I'm hopeful we can get some critical mass on the committee in that direction.

Wendy Ann Wright

Dear Mr. Libby,

In the Portland Mercury Blogtown post Sarh Mirk quotes you as saying "...You don’t save a building for its cultural history, but still we want to recognize that.” This actually is not true. Many different properties can be listed on the National Historic Register and cultural history is often the reason. Unfortunately in Portland the only things that ever seem to get listed are things associated with old dead white guys or architecture.

I appreciate your effort to save this building and generally support the notion of not tearing perfectly good buildings down. This building is obviously an important cultural resources to some, but Portland should step up and start nominating some things to the National Historic Register that matter to other people, like properties significant to our African American and other underrepresented communities. I would very much encourage your Friends of Memorial Coliseum group to consider this in your planning for the area because there are important cultural resources here besides the coliseum.

Properties that may be included on the National Historic Register include those:

A. That are associated with events that have made a significant contribution to the broad patterns of our history; or

B. That are associated with the lives of significant persons in or past; or

C. That embody the distinctive characteristics of a type, period, or method of construction, or that represent the work of a master, or that possess high artistic values, or that represent a significant and distinguishable entity whose components may lack individual distinction; or

D. That have yielded or may be likely to yield, information important in history or prehistory.

I would be happy to discuss this further with you and look forward to seeing how Portland plans for equitable development and consideration of cultural resources.


I wish I understood the love of a few for this building, but I don't.

True, the structure itself is gorgeous, and if it could be picked up and moved, I'd be all for it. But look at it in the context of where it is and what it does to and for the area it's in.

Ever notice how easy it is to take pictures in the Rose Quarter without having to wait for people to get out of the way? Look how desolate your photos are. You think you're fighting to preserve a building, but really, you're fighting to preserve desolation and poor urban planning. In a city known for its urban planning successes, you're fighting to preserve one of its mistakes.

We'd be so much better off if we could start from scratch with the Rose Quarter. What a waste of land... such prime land right in the core of the city. Talk about a waste of space. Fighting to preserve it only locks that part of town in hopelessness. There is nothing vibrant about the Rose Quarter. And, until drastic changes are made, there never will be.

Portland could do better.
Apparently, some Portlanders can't. It's sad, really.

Luckily, it won't cost a fortune to make the building environmentally friendly and earthqua.... oh, wait. Sigh.

Brian Libby


I appreciate your thoughtful response.

However, I think you're mixing up two issues here. You and I can absolutely agree that the Rose Quarter is a desolate place when there's not a Blazer game or big concert, and that better planning in this district is desperately needed.

But it doesn't make sense for you to say "The structure itself is gorgeous" and then say "We'd be so much better off if we could start from scratch."

There is a TON of land to use in the Rose Quarter to address the problems: on the riverfront, in the south surface parking lot, in the north surface parking lot, in the east plaza, and underground. Why on EARTH would you try to take away the one thing that's a success in this development?

Portland COULD do better, as you say. And that's what we're fighting to achieve. But the way NOT to do that is to destroy a national landmark and a great work of modern architecture. You also are incorrect in saying "a few" love this building. In fact, it's an overwhelming majority of Portlanders who have been surveyed.

Regarding your last point, this too is incorrect and misleading on your part. Restoring Memorial Coliseum is much CHEAPER than the option of building something else in its place.

I hope neither you nor other people reading my comment here will think I'm merely shouting down people who disagree. I welcome your comments, Rob, but simply want to stand up for the Coliseum as we have been consistently trying to do.

Brian Libby


I misspoke when I said "You don’t save a building for its cultural history, but still we want to recognize that." When I said it, there was a slide of the Trail Blazers winning the championship onscreen, and what I said was in the context of trying to articulate that cultural history ALONE was not usually enough to save a historic building - that the architecture had to be of a level worth saving as well.

Steve Rawley

Hey, Brian, add the Buckaroos to the cultural history category... Portland's original sports dynasty, and the Coliseum's first tenant.


All I hear is you standing up for the structure. The building. In my opinion, you do so at the expense of the Rose Quarter because you're advocating continuing to waste acres and acres of land that could have so much potential. And this is for what? A pretty building? When we value structures more than how they impact people's lives (or even if they do at all), then we have lost our way.

I'm not suggesting it would be cheaper to upgrade the Coliseum than to build something else there. If I'd intended to say that, I would have. I simply made the point that throwing more money at fixing the Coliseum does nothing to fix the problems of the Rose Quarter. Reusing the space, on the other hand, could drastically improve the otherwise dead part of town and quite possibly add to the quality of life for Portlanders who live or work near there not to mention people who would come there to enjoy whatever were to be built on those acres of underused land. Instead, I see people fight for parking lots and the desolate but lovely structure at the center of them. The Glass Palace might as well be a glass prison for the land it sits on.

Sometimes, missed opportunities come in shiny packages. Maybe, a generation or two from now, wiser people will undo the mistakes that are our failings.

It sure is a pretty building. And our society puts a premium on pretty. I'll give you that. This building and the land it sits on is about as vacant as your average supermodel.

Jim Heuer

Granted that use as an arena is likely both the most practical and cost effective long-term use of the Memorial Coliseum, I have to admit to a rather improbable dream of a re-purposed Coliseum as the above-ground element of a new high-speed rail, commuter, and light rail underground terminal on that site.

Take a look at Google Maps of that area and imagine the Union Pacific Railroad tracks, which parallel the river and, south of the Steel Bridge, carry Amtrak trains today, running underground from around Division Street, under the MC and the new station, and then routed directly north along the current right-of-way to the railroad's Columbia River Bridge.

Let's also imagine that instead of spending $3+ billion on the I-5 Columbia Crossing bridge, we spent that money on converting the M-C into the new high-speed rail terminal that we know Portland will need in the next 10-15 years, burying I-5 and the UPRR, which take up hugely valuable river front real estate, put MAX into a speedy subway route through what is now the slowest part of its transit of downtown. This basically provides Portland with 1) world-class passenger transportation infrastructure, 2) High capacity passenger transport for moving people directly to and from the Rose Garden (and possibly a MLB stadium on the Portland Public Schools Admin site), and 3) an East Side riverfront freed of its horrible I-5 freeway blight.

For a vision of what a glass walled passenger station with underground tracks can look like, check out this Wikipedia photo of the train concourse of New York's Pennsylvania Station, designed by McKim, Mead, and White in 1904 click here. In more recent years, the magnificent Berlin Central Rail Station (completed 2006) provides a modern example of enveloping cris-crossing rail lines under a soaring glass box.

Douglas K.

I think there should be a high-speed rail station at Rose Quarter -- actually a multi-modal station that combines Amtrak, Greyhound and possibly commuter rail -- but I'd rather see it built on the old hotel site along the riverfront.

I agree that more needs to happen to bring the Rose Quarter to life, but transforming the Coliseum isn't necessary to make that happen. If the Coliseum remained a multi-use entertainment venue (Winter Hawks, concerts for audiences of 4,000 to 10,000 people, maybe a WNBA team), it could work in conjunction with the Rose Garden to bring people into the Rose Quarter maybe 300 evenings per year.

What the Rose Quarter really needs are daytime attractions. I personally would like to see a public aquarium there. Portland does not yet have an aquarium; an aquarium can be built in a fairly small space; and it could have the ability to draw as many people on a year-round daytime basis as the Portland Art Museum or OMSI. It would be pretty simple to create an aquarium in the Exhibition Hall and Convention Hall of the Coliseum.

I don't know about the potential draw of a sports museum, but why not turn the (mostly dead) One Center Court building into the new Oregon Sports Hall of Fame? I would look to Paul Allen's Experience Music Project as a model in terms of designing cool interactive exhibits on a sports theme.

Also, Derek Hanna's SMART Tower would be a natural fit for the Rose Quarter. It would be mostly a tourist attraction, but would draw in a steady line of people whenever tourists are in town.

I'm not sure if this would work, but perhaps the top of the Coliseum could go a step beyond a green roof. Could we create an attractive rooftop garden (charging admission, like the Japanese Garden or Chinese Garden) with a large lawn that could host outdoor concerts during the summer?

I know that in the past, Disney experimented with the concept of indoor theme parks. I don't know if something like that would fly in Portland, but there are plenty of opportunities in the Rose Quarter to put a five or six story indoor play space on a one-acre footprint.

Gardens, museums, aquariums, and theme parks are all daytime attractions. Get some combination in there, and they would bring regular, year-round daytime traffic to support shops and restaurants.

A Rose Quarter multiplex cinema that included an IMAX screen would also bring people in day and night, year-round.

Also, any restaurants and clubs could generate their own "entertainment" traffic by hosting live music.

I'm fairly sure Rose Quarter still has the space to build -- for sake of argument -- an aquarium, two museums, a public garden, an indoor theme park/play space, a multi-plex cinema, a number of small restaurants, the SMART Tower and a waterfront train/bus station -- all WITHOUT sacrificing the Coliseum as a multi-use entertainment venue.

The Coliseum isn't getting in the way of bringing the Rose Quarter to life. The lack of daytime attractors is the problem. And there is a LOT of room for those, once we figure out what they could be an where they should go.


"The Glass Palace might as well be a glass prison for the land it sits on." Rob

The Glass Palace hosts many events and activities throughout the year, and could likely hold more. It's by no means a prison, unlike the acres of surface parking lots surrounding it that do nothing more than store the cars of people attending events at the RQ. Sure, it costs more money to build underground parking, but it's a way to reclaim acres of land that could be more constructively used.

If a vibrant neighborhood of shops, restaurants, clubs, and residences with park space and pedestrian conveniences were allowed to develop on some of that acreage, people might actually have a good reason to go near the area of the RQ's two big arenas during hours when events weren't scheduled for the arenas. Outside of Paul Allens failed Rose Garden mini-strip mall of boutique food joints, a neighborhood like this has not been allowed to happen. That's why the area is so devoid of people. Why would anyone want to stand around in a parking lot whether empty or filled with cars?

The Oregon Convention Center has probably done more than either of the two arenas to bring people to the RQ during daytime hours. If there were actually something to do outside the OCC building in the area surrounding the two arenas, they might stick around and go there, enjoy themselves, making the area better.

Bo Sullivan

As a designer and architectural historian, I appreciate the Coliseum and support its reuse and integration into a broader (and more visionary) Rose Quarter plan.

However, I think it is important to acknowledge that for many folks, the building simply fails to inspire, regardless of history or design.

I can't help but feel like there could be a fundamental problem with the design of the Coliseum that prevents it from expressing it's true potential as a structure - the counterintuitive and somewhat oppressive visual character of having a very thick, heavy, solid-looking "slab" appearing to float over a transparent, thin-walled plinth of glass. Even on the inside, I suspect that for many the effect is more unsettling than magical.

I was very interested to read in your history of the building how the wood product lobby basically hijacked the design process and forced upon it the use of materials that might otherwise not have been used.

I can't guess at SOM's original wood-free intentions, but I personally think the Coliseum is like a glass Atlas carrying the world on his back. I'd like to see a re-imagining of the building that opens up the solid slab of the upper walls and roof to introduce lightness and a sense of transparency - give it some emotional aspiration and release.

Blasphemy though it may be, I'd love to see the roof blown out and replaced with a dramatic natural lighting solution, and the upper wood-panel walls replaced with perhaps a colored, semi-transparent material that engages in daytime play with our all-too-rare sunlight, and glows with inner life at night. I feel like the building almost needs to be turned inside-out, to celebrate more of what is inside the jewel box and less of the box itself (with the very heavy lid).

Just my personal opinion.

Marc Hull

And then what happened when you told the committee how much money it would take to complete the sort of overhaul you suggest?

Brian Libby

Bo Sullivan,

Thank you for your comments. I think some of your ideas for renovation are interesting, but I disagree with your assertion that the Coliseum has failed to inspire. Its best feature, the open curtain allowing for a view to the outside, has hardly been used. It's outer transparency has been blocked for 20 years by a two-deep ring of trees.

Marc Hull,

The sort of overhaul we (Friends of Memorial Coliseum) suggest is BY FAR THE CHEAPEST OPTION compared to a major demolition and new building or even a major change to the Coliseum's interior. If you're concerned about cost, renovating the existing arena is the choice you'd want to get behind. We'll save money AND keep an architectural treasure on the National Register of Historic Buildings.


Cut down the trees?

Cut down the trees.

Cut down the trees!

Marc Hull

Brian, you may be correct that doing some sort of rehab to the MC is the cheapest solution. I don't know what your numbers are since you don't disclose them. However, many, many of the ideas folks have expressed for repurposing the building - train stations, velodromes, theme parks,etc. - would cost some serious money to complete. My suspicion is that the committee still hasn't gotten to the price tag portion of the study yet. I can guarantee you, however, that once the average Portlander understands exactly what it will cost to convert this building into something sustainable and useful, the discussion will come to an immediate and abrupt end. Brian, this is a city that has been debating whether to build a convention center hotel for 20 years. It's a city that balked over trying to finance a minor league baseball stadium for the Beavers. It's a city that does not support large volumes of dollars expended on anything other than rail projects, which are predominantly financed by the federal government. So, just because you assert that renovating the MC is the cheapest option does not make it any more of a reality. My bet is still that nothing of substance will be done with this facility. We've been studying what to do with it since 1995, remember. The committee will add all sorts of new ideas, facts and figures to the discussion. But at the end of the day, nothing will be done with the MC. You will be lucky to get the money to keep it from collapsing on itself. As for the rest of the Rose Quarter, you will need to ask Paul Allen what HE wants to do with it since he's got the first right to develop the area.

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