Happy Halloween!

by Steve, October 29th, 2009

From LuLu, our little “parlor panther.”

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.

Jesus, Beezus!

by Steve, October 3rd, 2009

RamonaIt seemed like such a great idea… a walking tour of Beverly Cleary’s neighborhood, which, it turns out, was Ramona Quimby’s and Henry Huggins’ neighborhood.

Rain in the forecast? Who cares! It’ll be all the more authentic!

Well, it didn’t rain, the weather was great, and the turnout was insane. We had traffic blocked in the heart of Hollywood for a little bit, as guide Laura Foster explained a landmark.

The tour started at the Hollywood branch library, then made its way Jesus, Beezus!down Hancock (which Cleary renamed Klickitat Street) to the home Cleary lived in as a young girl, just across from what is now known as Beverly Cleary School (until recently Fernwood; known as Glenwood in the books). The tour continued up 33rd to Grant park with it’s Ramona, Ribsy and Henry statues, then over to another of Cleary’s childhood homes at the foot of the Alameda ridge, and finally back to the library.

It was a fun tour, despite the crush of humanity. We love Beverly Cleary at my house.

International Day of Non-Violence

by Steve, October 2nd, 2009

“When I despair, I remember that all through history the ways of truth and love have always won. There have been tyrants, and murderers, and for a time they can seem invincible, but in the end they always fall. Think of it, always.” — Mahatma Gandhi

Today is Gandhi Jayanti, a national holiday in India in celebration of the birth of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, and the UN-recognized International Day of Non-Violence.

More fun with the Oregonian

by Steve, October 2nd, 2009

A couple years back, the Oregonian’s hackneyed Web front-end, OregonLive.com, started experimenting with a local implementation of Reddit, a link-sharing social network. It never gained critical mass, and it was easy to game the system to get (and keep) links on the front page of OregonLive.

Hey, we had our juvenile fun, but it was to a point: the Oregonian simply doesn’t have a clue how to operate in the 21st century new media world.

OregonLive made a number of tweaks to their Reddit system, including moving the links to the very bottom of the front page and giving up on hosting Oregon Reddit (it’s just a category at Reddit.com now). We can still have a little fun with them.

They (obviously) still don’t get new media at the Oregonian (they had a daily podcast for a couple months starting in August 2008, which petered out last March), but that’s just a critique of their delivery.

The real knock on the O is the same knock on pretty much any old school daily: their pretension of objectivity makes them shills for the status quo.

Journalist, author and pundit Dan Savage had some fun recently with what he calls a “drug war” story in the Oregonian, and gave Oregonian reporter Bryan Denson the honor of “Stupid Fucking Credulous Hack of the Day” not once, but twice in the same week.

I thought that story deserved a link on the front page of OregonLive, and voila!

Dan also published a long and humorous e-mail exchange with Denson, which is an object lesson in the insularity of reporters at the O. (Here’s Savage’s Wikipedia page, just for future reference, Bryan.)