Touring the Memorial Coliseum and Rose Garden

by Steve, October 12th, 2009
Coliseum viewThe view from the concourse of Memorial Coliseum, the world’s only transparent arena

As a member of the the mayor’s Rose Quarter Stakeholder Advisory Committee, I got the chance to tour the two-arena, 35 acre Rose Quarter with Blazers’ and city staff (and a bunch of media) this morning.

Coliseum concourse
the “saucer in a box” up close

We got a good look at the inner workings of both arenas, starting with the Rose Garden. We were told of its awsomeness and  flexibility, as well as recent upgrades to the club level and suites.

But PSU urban studies prof Will Macht couldn’t hide his disdain for the “very convoluted” design of the 20,000 seat arena.  While the bowl has great sight lines and, yes, flexibility, the concourses, stairways, escalators, elevators and parking ramps convey a jumbled, confusing sense of place. In contrast, Macht praises the Coliseum for the way a very large space was kept so elegant and simple.

After an overview of the lands available for development (a small parcel on the south side, currently a grassy and tree-planted slope, and Broadway frontage the north end) we entered the old glass palace at the concourse level.

In the Bowels of the Coliseum
In the bowels of the Coliseum

Besides antiquated lighting and mechanical systems and a backlog of deferred maintenance, the Coliseum suffers a handful of design shortcomings:

  1. No loading docks… the event floor was designed at street level to accommodate the Rose Festival Parade.
  2. The original ice floor (which is about 30 years beyond its design life) is 15 feet shorter than regulation and a couple feet too narrow.
  3. Because of the design of the free-standing bowl, there is nowhere to route ventilation shafts for concession stands, so food has to be cooked elsewhere and brought in.
Rose Quarter club level
The view from the Rose Garden club level, the one nice open space outside of the bowl itself, echoing the all-around clean lines of the Coliseum

But… The Coliseum booked about 150 events last year, the same as the Rose Garden. 450,000 people attended events at the Coliseum, in the worst economic climate since it was built, and with the prime tenant, the Winterhawks Hockey Club, having the worst attendance in their 30-plus year history.

At the end of the day, it is clear that without the Coliseum as a spectator facility, the city will lose a large number of bookings… the Rose Garden simply can’t accommodate them, especially given the two month blackout on bookings imposed by the NBA for potential playoff scheduling.

J. Isaac
Trailblazers’ V.P. J. Isaac

J. Isaac took questions after the tour, and began to talk about the need for an arena that seats 6-7,000 spectators, a figure rarely exceeded by Coliseum events. He talked vaguely about “shrinking the bowl” of the Coliseum to provide the more intimate environment common in major junior hockey and also to provide more “theatrical” flexibility for mid-sized shows.

My personal vision for the Coliseum has been also to reduce the number of seats, by installing a regulation ice sheet, luxury seating sections, and wider seats throughout. I asked Isaac if these were the kinds of things he had in mind. He told me he’s talking about physically changing the bowl, something that concerns me, and likely will concern preservationists. (The Coliseum’s listing the National Register of Historic Places cites both the glass curtain walls and the arena bowl as historically significant design elements.)

Will Macht
PSU Urban Studies Prof. Will Macht, with Sam Adam’s staffer Amy Ruiz

Isaac told me that Winterhawks management is interested in the concept of a smaller, refurbished arena to call home, with a small number of marquee games played at the Rose Garden.

Despite my concerns for the preservation of the bowl, I am very heartened that the Blazers and Winterhawks both appear to be on board with preserving the Coliseum as a multi-use spectator facility. It’s got fantastic bones and a truly remarkable and unique design — it’s the only fully-transparent arena in the world.

It is difficult to conceive of any “adaptive reuse” for the Coliseum that would serve anything close to half a million visitors a year. Portland has a demonstrated need for a mid-sized spectator venue, and we’ve got the bones of a great one in our hands. The only question remaining in my mind is who will pay for necessary renovations and upgrades, including mechanical systems, the ice floor and refrigeration plant, video system and seating reconfigurations. Isaac told me it won’t be the Blazers, and it is assumed that most money will have to come from private-public partnerships.

Memorial Coliseum
The Coliseum on a bright autumn day

I pointed out to Isaac that the Winterhawks owner, Alberta oilman Bill Gallacher, might have a little bread to throw around, and he could have some incentive to invest in the joint if he could get different terms on his lease, maybe including a share of concessions, luxury seating, etc.

Isaac acknowledged that as a possibility, referencing the end of their lease in 2012.

“The Winterhawks are free agents in 2013,” he said.

Shut the Eff up, Merrit Paulson

by Steve, April 15th, 2009

Merit Paulson, millionaire son of Bush Treasury Secretary and former head of Goldman Sachs Hank Paulson, wants to tell us to do with our Memorial Coliseum.

Isn’t that cute.

Besides being insanely rushed, there are many reasons to oppose this absurd deal.

The Coliseum is a modernist masterpiece, with its square glass curtain walls enclosing a simple, graceful sweep of the arena bowl. It also happens to be a very functional (if run-down) mid-sized spectator venue in the center of our city, providing year-round family entertainment, with fantastic sight lines for the game of hockey.

Paulson cites a figure of losing $500,000 a year, the amount dedicated from the city’s spectator fund (money from parking revenue and ticket surcharges) to do maintenance at the Coliseum. But he coliseum actually provides income to its contracted management firm (Paul Allen), and could make money for the city if they transferred management to the Winter Hawks, who might also be amenable to a public-private partnership to renovate the old glass palace in return for good terms on a long-term lease.

You guys on city council want to make a deal with a millionaire? How about ringing up Alberta oilman Bill Gallacher, owner of the Winter Hawks.

Such a renovation could include facilities for public recreational skating opportunities (the Winter Hawks have expressed an interest in starting a youth hockey program), revenue-producing suites, an improved ice plant and surface, and updated mechanical systems. A restaurant/bar could be added, which, combined with recreational skating, could draw significant use and income for the city-owned facility.

Merrit Paulson’s plan for our city property would be extremely costly and would see use fewer than six months out of the year. It would offer no public recreational use.

Portland policy makers for years have failed to address the future of the Coliseum, and have let it fall into a sorry state of disrepair. But even a total renovation would be less expensive than tearing it down and building a new facility. Portland has a demonstrated, ongoing need for a spectator venue of this size, it can be easily configured to offer public recreation, and it is an architectural treasure.

So, Randy Leonard: as a fellow hockey fan, I’m disappointed in you. Sam Adams, I’m not at all surprised. But you should be ashamed of yourself.

And Merrit Paulson, just because daddy’s rich, doesn’t mean you can ride into town and tell us what to do with our treasured civic property. Why don’t you take your sports dreams somewhere else and leave our Coliseum alone.

Planned and unplanned outages

by Steve, December 21st, 2008

Due to ever-increasing visitor loads, the server that hosts this blog (and a few others) is no longer able to keep up. Coincidentally, our router is failing. And we’re dealing with snow and ice in Portland, which could easily lead to prolonged power outages.

A new, more powerful server is on order for the new year, and a new router should be installed in the next two days. Meanwhile, don’t be surprised if we’re offline from time to time in the next couple weeks!

Big day in Hawkey Town

by Steve, October 15th, 2008

With the Winter Hawks starting their biggest road trip of the season in Spokane tonight, the WHL board of governors is meeting today to decide the fate of our local major junior hockey franchise. Kamploops Daily News sports editor Greg Drinnan, who initially broke the story of Calgary oil man Bill Gallacher’s bid to buy the Hawks, says “all indications are that the sale will proceed.”

That means, in all likelihood, by the time the Hawks come back to town on November 5, they’ll be under new ownership, new management, and, if the rumors are correct, new coaching.

It will also be interesting to see what player movements happen.

The three-year reign of New York barkeep and real estate horse trader Jim Goldsmith and his partners has nearly driven the team into the ground. We expect five-year cycles in junior hockey, but this ownership group has taken the Hawks so far down, it’s hard to see the upside — even with a darn good crop of youngins in the system. Attendance is at an all-time low, from what I can see, with average “crowds” well below the 3000 mark (you don’t have to go back more than three years to see averages around 6000 at this point of the season).

There’s no question Goldsmith and his crew have been doing the bare minimum to operate this team with the sale pending. And there’s no question Portland hockey fans will be happy to see them go.

Gallacher’s ownership also signals the end of the “three amigos” era in Portland hockey, with general manager Ken Hodge expected to be replaced. He’ll probably ride out the season in an advisory role.

Hodge, along with the late Brian Shaw and trainer Innes Mackie first introduced Canadian major junior hockey to the US in 1976 when they brought the Winter Hawks, previously the Edmonton Oil Kings, to Portland. Hopefully Gallacher will treat Hodge and Mackie with the kind of respect they deserve, and they’ll get a nice send-off (and retirement package).

The WHL is holding a press conference at 2:30 PST, presumably to announce the sale.

Update 3pm: The sale has been unanimously approved, and the long Winter Hawk nightmare of Jim Goldsmith and crew is over.

Palin booed at cermonial puck drop

by Steve, October 14th, 2008

First noticed on Huffington Post (with a little shout out to this blog), from Lynn Zinser’s New York Times Slap Shot blog. Also read a round-up of coverage of the event on E & P Pub, with some humor regarding Rangers’ center, former Winter Hawk and Alaska Native Brandon Dubinsky.

If it matters to Oregonians…

by Steve, August 17th, 2008

…it’s in the Kamloops Daily News.

Greg Drinnan, sports editor of the Daily News, reported the really, really big news that the sale of the Winter Hawks to an Alberta oil magnate is all over but for the formality of league approval.

Drinnan’s sources indicate a total clean-slate approach on the hockey operations side, which means an end of the Ken Hodge era. (General manager and former head coach Hodge was one of the “three amigos” who originally brought Canadian major junior hockey to the states when they moved the Winter Hawks to Portland from Edmonton in 1976.)

Former Winter Hawks in the NHL Playoffs

by Steve, April 9th, 2008

Winter Hawks play-by-play man Andy Kemper has a great summary of former Portland players in the NHL playoffs, which start today. Recent Hawks grads Brandon Dubinsky (NY Rangers) and Braydon Coburn (Philadelphia) should get some serious ice time, and Cody McLeod (Colorado) should get a few shifts.

Check out Andy’s write-up of older Hawks grads, including Marian Hossa (Pittsburgh), Andrew Ference (Boston), Brendan Morrow (Dallas) and Scott Nichol (Nashville).

Leonard Drops the Gloves

by Steve, April 8th, 2008

It seemed like Randy Leonard was pulling his punches when he wrote to me a couple weeks ago that he “was not convinced… that the Blazers were to blame for the deteriorating relationship” in lease renegotiation talks with the Winter Hawks.

Now he’s dropped the gloves.

In today’s Portland Tribune, Leonard tells us how he really feels.

He says “I felt like I was being played,” and “an impartial observer could conclude, ‘Am I in the middle of a used-car deal, or a problem with the Winter Hawks?'”

In addition to the lack of negotiation prowess, issues surrounding the price and quality of the big screens Leonard helped get installed at the Coliseum and bluster about moving to Salem have Leonard disillusioned with the ownership group of Jim Goldsmith, Jack Donovan and John Bryant.

You’ve got to give him credit for trying, but he’s now part of the legions of disgruntled Hawks fans who are increasingly resigned to the fact that their home town hockey team may soon be folding or moving.

I still hold out hope that the league will force a sale, and we’ll get an owner group that knows hockey, knows sports marketing, and knows how to negotiate.

Hey, it could happen!

Here Comes the Mucha Bunny

by Steve, April 6th, 2008

The kids had a little fun with the Winter Hawks schedule and some Easter bunny magnets.

Credit Where Credit is Due

by Steve, March 25th, 2008

New York City bar keep Jim Goldsmith has finished his second season as owner of the Winter Hawks with his operation under scrutiny from the Western Hockey League. Commissioner Ron Robison has ordered Goldsmith to step down as director of hockey operations and renegotiate his lease with the Trailblazers. There’s been a fair amount of posturing in the press, including Goldsmith complaining about the lease, saying “…do we have to just feed the pig?”

Not a good way to start the renegotiation talks, and the Blazers have been predictably cool to this kind of bombast. Their response? “…[T]hey need to get their fan base back.”

Scared shitless that we might lose our franchise in Portland, I wrote an e-mail to City Commissioner Randy Leonard, who last fall intervened on behalf of the Hawks to get their replay screens installed in the Coliseum. Here’s part of what I wrote:

The Trailblazers do not seem interested in renegotiating the lease, which they say currently brings them revenue equivalent to one concert from the entire season’s games.

My question to you is whether the city can do anything to prevail on the Trailblazers to renegotiate, or if this is entirely up to the Trailblazers’ management. Since the city owns the venue, it seems to me we should have some say in this.

While the Winter Hawks clearly aren’t a big money maker for the city or the Trailblazers, the value of this team to the community transcends the direct revenue they bring. As you know, Portland has a rich hockey tradition, going back to the Portland Rosebuds, the first US-based team to play for the Stanley Cup in 1916.

It would be a real shame if Portland lost the Winter Hawks because they are nothing but chump change to Paul Allen. Our only hope may be if the City of Portland were to step in at this point.

Is there any chance of that happening?

Thanks for you consideration.

Randy got right back to me, and confirmed my suspicions that the Winter Hawks owner’s style was hurting his own chances of renegotiating:

I do not believe the issue of re-negotiating a lease with the Trailblazers is exclusively because of the Trailblazers conduct. I have been party to some of the negotiations between the Blazers and the Winterhawks and I was not convinced, after that meeting, that the Blazers were to blame for the deteriorating relationship.

I will continue to do what I can to help improve the venue for the Winterhawks.

So there you have it, hockey fans. If you’re trying to get one of the world’s richest men to renegotiate your lease, it’s probably best to not start things off by calling him a pig.

Just sayin’.

Update, 4/8/2008: Randy’s got a lot more to say today.