Portland’s Memorial Coliseum has a bumpy past (if you count numerous attempts to rip the building down). And now Portland officials want it to have a shiny new future. But information on that exact plan remains murky, at best.
While the eventual use of the structure could still flip or flop a few different directions, acting on behalf of the city, the Portland Development Commission has issued a Request for Proposals for architectural and engineering services to renovate the 50-year-old structure located on the Willamette River east of the main downtown core.
Originally opened in 1960, the coliseum served as the first home for the NBA’s Portland Trail Blazers (they moved into the adjacent Rose Garden Arena in 1995). The coliseum still hosts minor-league hockey’s Portland WinterHawks and a smattering of other events throughout the year. Having grown up in Portland, but without living there since the 1990s, I remember both hockey and basketball games in the coliseum and the Rose Garden, often marveling at the massive glass windows of the coliseum (hey, I was only a kid, remember).
But what to do with the boxy structure has puzzled city officials for about a decade. First off, the entire Rose Quarter District is in need of revitalization and plans have been proposed and tossed and promised on a continual basis. Secondly, nobody seems quite sure if the coliseum is actually needed, right next door to the Rose Garden Arena.
Plans called for the tearing down of the structure in the early 2000s and in 2009 the city again considered removing it to make way for a proposed minor-league baseball stadium. That plan fell apart and baseball has left Portland yet again, as Portland’s downtown baseball stadium underwent a massive soccer-only overhaul to give a warm welcome to the Rose City’s MLS-expansion Portland Timbers. The failed bid for a new baseball stadium served as a catalyst to place the glass-heavy structure on the National Register of Historic Places.
But what about the coliseum’s future? Now the building has new life, again. The 197,000-square-foot building is now considered a focal point of the Rose Quarter Development Project and the Portland Development Commission—which has planned over $20 million for the upgrades—has asked for firms to bid on fixes to the coliseum, both to bolster a new deal to keep the WinterHawks happy—and in town—and to provide new entertainment opportunities as part of a larger development plan.
With original planning and design work already done by Boora Architects, the city wants firms to bid that stand ready to take those conceptual designs and turn them into architectural and structural reality upgrades, including work to enhance mechanical, electrical, plumbing, life safety, code issues, concessions, seating, lighting (including new natural lighting options), signage, restrooms, locker rooms, acoustics, meeting rooms, public ice skating amenities, the east plaza and the Memorial Gardens.
When all done, the PDC expects the new LEED Gold building to mesh with a yet undetermined new Rose Quarter District, including upgrades to three vacant areas within the quarter. The PDC also expects the upgrades to enhance the tie to veterans, showcase sustainability, serve as a popular live entertainment venue, host a community ice rink and serve as a professional sports spectator facility, provide space for visual arts and inspire new programming options.
The RFP says: “This project aims to create a vibrant, pedestrian-oriented, mixed-use district with year-round night and day active public uses that should support the future of the Rose Quarter district.”
As the city and the PDC struggle to strictly define what the Rose Quarter should eventually look like and how much money should go toward the development, they decided to start moving on the coliseum. Ultimately, the Memorial Coliseum will play a role in the development of the entire area. With stop and start planning so far, let’s hope Portland can put together a more cohesive plan and not leave the coliseum out of the loop yet again.