Is Portland a sports city? That was the question put to Portland Trail Blazers president Larry Miller and Beavers and Timbers owner Merritt Paulson by Oregonian columnist Steve Duin at the City Club’s Friday Forum today.
I was well-prepared to not hear the words “Winter Hawks” mentioned, and I planned to ask a question of Larry Miller in regards to the Hawks’ lease. The Trail Blazers manage the Hawks’ home arena, the city-owned Memorial Coliseum, and have been so far unwilling to entertain renegotiating the lease.
Western Hockey League Commissioner Ron Robison calls the Hawks’ lease with the Trail Blazers the worst in the league. The current Winter Hawks ownership group, headed up by bombastic New York City barkeep Jim Goldsmith, doesn’t seem to be taking a constructive approach to renegotiations.
While the Winter Hawks were not mentioned at the forum (the word “hockey” was uttered once), the Memorial Coliseum did come up, when Steve Duin asked Larry Miller about the Blazers’ Rose Quarter redevelopment plans. Though not stated explicitly, the venerable old glass palace seems to be considered more of a hindrance than an asset.
When club member question time came, I was a little slow getting to the line, and questions were cut off before I got to the mic. Here’s what I planned to say.
Thirty years before the NBA was founded, the Portland Rosebuds were the first US-based hockey team to play for the Stanley Cup in 1916. Though they lost to Montreal, the name of our city is engraved on the cup. In 1976, Portland became the first US city to get a Western Hockey League franchise, the Portland Winter Hawks. Today, that team has what is described by the WHL commissioner as the worst lease in the League. If it means the team will otherwise have to leave Portland, would the Trail Blazers be willing to renegotiate the Winter Hawks’ lease?
I didn’t get my answer today, but we will find out soon enough. WHL commish Robison says the team must renegotiate the Memorial Coliseum lease, or they’ll have to move. The ball, as usual, is in the Trail Blazers’ court.
Update: If you want to hear them not talk about hockey for an hour, the meeting is broadcast on OPB radio tonight at 7pm. It is also rebroadcast on various cable TV outlets, and audio is available online for a couple weeks. See the City Club for more information (scroll down).