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.

Jefferson, Grant Take Top Hoops Honors

by Steve, March 16th, 2008

Inspired by the Jefferson women’s 5A hoops title, the Jefferson men brought home the men’s title last night, defeating Corvallis 55-52.

As soon as the mayhem on McArthur Court was cleared, the Grant Generals took to the court and held off a tough Oregon City team for the 6A title, Grant’s first state title in 20 years.

Jefferson, who finished the season 25-1, lost their only game of the season to 6A Oregon City, and beat Grant in their sole match-up this season. Jefferson players were among the fans that stormed the court after Grant’s victory.

Jefferson Women #1 in Oregon 5A Hoops

by Steve, March 9th, 2008

Victory! The undefeated Lady Demos pulled off a heart-stopping come-from-behind victory over a tenacious Hermiston Bulldogs squad last night at the Chiles Center in Portland to earn the Oregon 5A women’s basketball championship.

Jefferson struggled against a strong Hermiston defense that kept them to the outside in the first half, and trailed the Bulldogs until Janita Badon’s third period buzzer shot put the Lady Demos up by one. The Hermiston defense looked tired in the fourth, and the Jefferson offense began to click. With two minutes to go the Demos started to hold the ball to protect their small lead. Hermiston forced fouls, but Jefferson held on, sunk free throws and grabbed offensive rebounds, eventually winning 67-58.

Jefferson was led by senior Nyesha Sims, 16 points; sophomore Denaya Brazzle, 15 points; and sophomore Denise Hammick with 10 points and stellar defense.

It was an emotional finish to a perfect season. Though significantly outnumbered in their own back yard by Hermiston fans, the Jefferson family put on a show of support that spilled onto the court at the final horn.

Oh, and the Winter Hawks won last night, too, after a 22-game losing streak.

Jefferson Women Show Champion Spirit

by Steve, March 8th, 2008

Demos Win!In Less than two hours, the undefeated Jefferson Lady Demos play their final game of the season, the Oregon 5A state championship, vs. Hermiston.
The Lady Demos out-hustled, out-defended and out-shot Willamette (Eugene) in the semi-final last night, winning 55-44 after a much closer first half against a spirited Willamette team.
Janita Badon

Senior Nyesha Sims led the way with fourteen points, along with Janita Badon (pictured) with 13 and Tyrisha Blake with 10.

The University of Portland’s Chiles center was rocked by a sizable and vocal Jefferson cheering section, much of which made their way to Jefferson High to see the second-half of the men’s game, which saw Jefferson defeat Wilsonville 69-51 in their second-round playoff match up. The boys are on to state in Eugene next week.