Sunday, April 12, 2009

Coliseum Choices: An Asset Too Valuable To Demolish

I received an email from a person who wishes to remain anonymous. To make a long story short this individual, like me, is hoping that the Memorial Coliseum can be saved. He emailed me not only a copy of a letter that he sent to the city commissioners, but also a soon to be published article that was authored by Will Macht, a professor at PSU, who behind the scenes has written up a nice article that gives some very good reasons for saving the Memorial Coliseum. In the article professor Macht also provides some ideas of what could be done with the Coliseum besides the AAA baseball stadium that Sam Adams and co. want at the Coliseum site. If you want to see the document you can download it from here.

There is a lot to digest here and I am only putting this information on the blog for the sake of getting it out there. I did not look through the whole document and I am not putting my stamp of approval on it, but I could get behind some of the ideas that the professor has laid out. Like keeping the Memorial Coliseum as an arena. Imagine that.......what a concept huh? For all who are interested, below is the email to the city council members from the fellow who passed this information on to me, with any mention of his name deleted to protect his privacy as he has contacts within the Blazer Organization:

Dear Commissioner, I am writing to express my strong disapproval of the plan to demolish the Memorial Coliseum to make way for a baseball stadium. I urge you and your fellow commissioners to give the process the time necessary to fully investigate the issue, rather than bowing to Merritt Paulson's accelerated time table that ignores the need for public input and thoughtful consideration. I disapprove of the plan to tear down the Coliseum for the following reasons:

1. Tearing down a building that may be programmed for events 365 days a year to build a stadium that may only be used for 70 home games a year makes zero sense. One cannot build a sustainable entertainment district by tearing down a perfectly good building that just needs reprogramming and some TLC to build a less-often used, single use building.

2. A baseball stadium does nothing to achieve the stated goal of activating the area during times when no event is happening at the Rose Quarter. In fact, it does just the opposite- what good does a baseball stadium do for activating the area on the other 295 days a year when no games are played? Doesn't it make more sense to have a facility that can be used more often for multiple types of events in all kinds of weather, not less?

3. The Coliseum is a victim of a misguided operating agreement between the city and the Oregon Arena Corp. Other publicly-owned entertainment facilities in the City (Keller Auditorium, PCPA, the EXPO Center, the Oregon Convention Center, and formerly Civic Stadium) are managed by MERC, a part of Metro. Management of the MC was transferred from MERC to Oregon Arena Corp in 1992 under an operations agreement that disincentivizes operating the facility at a more than break-even level. For every dollar OAC earns in revenue from operating the MC, it must share 60 cents with the City. It has no such obstacle with the Rose Garden, and as such, makes a greater profit from events held at the RG. As a result, there is no incentive to maintain or improve the MC, and it has fallen into disrepair solely due to the conflict of interest in this management agreement. It's time to tear up the management agreement and transfer management back to MERC, so that it may program events at the MC that don't directly compete with those held at the RG. This could be done by trading development rights to the City-owned parking garages in the Rose Quarter to the OAC in exchange for voiding the management contract for the MC.

4. Where will the Winterhawks play?

5. I'm not opposed to baseball in Portland if it can be done in a forward-thinking, economically responsible manner. I often attend Beavers games and I enjoy nothing more than a hotdog on a sunny afternoon at the ballpark. But any baseball stadium built in Portland should be designed with the future in mind, not the past. Building a 9,000 seat stadium for minor league baseball practically guarantees that Major League Baseball won't come to Portland anytime in the next 20-30 years. Don't we want to be a major league town? Thinking small won't get us there. Putting a larger stadium in Lents, across Broadway at the underutilized Portland Public Schools site, or even near the airport makes far better sense. And doing it without public subsidy is the only responsible thing to do in our current economic climate. There are several well-conceived ideas for reconceptualizing the Memorial Coliseum that deserve consideration. With his permission, I've attached an article by Professor Will Macht at PSU's Center for Real Estate detailing these concepts to this email, and I encourage you to read it. It's a quick read, and the ideas make far greater sense both programmatically as well as economically than does a baseball stadium. Pay special attention to the section on the arts center, as well as the public policy questions on the last six pages. This is where the City has the opportunity to do something truly special with this iconic structure and meet the needs of Paulson, the Blazers, and the City at the same time, if they'll just slow down and take a breath.

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