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PORTLAND TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO - The Veterans Memorial Coliseum is an acclaimed example of mid-century architecture. It also needs at least $35 million in repairsAs Yogi Berra would have said about the new report on the future of the Veterans Memorial Coliseum, “It’s like déja vu all over again.”


The city released a report last Monday on options for the Coliseum prepared by the Office of Management and Finance. In some respects, it didn’t add much new to the ongoing debate over the future of the aging spectator facility.

Before the report was released, the City Council already knew preservationists will fight tearing down the Coliseum, even though its minimum maintenance requirements exceed the available funds. Upgrading the Coliseum beyond that will cost even more money — up to $122 million more that the city has not budgeted for.

“Unfortunately, as with many challenges of aging infrastructure facing the city, the VMC presents another difficult problem, with no apparent easy solution,” reads the cover letter to the report signed by city Chief Administrative Officer Fred Miller.

But the report also supports the preservationists, who argue the Coliseum is not only historically significant but could boost Portland’s economy by attracting more events every year if upgraded.

“The Coliseum can be an economic driver for the city,” says local architect Stuart Emmons, co-founder of Friends of the Memorial Coliseum, a local organization dedicated to preserving and restoring the Coliseum.

PORTLAND TRIBUNE PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Supporters of the Veteran's Memorial Coliseum (right) feel that the venue can still be an economic driver for the city.Among other things, the report contains the freshest and most accurate cost estimates of various options for the Coliseum. It says doing the essential repair and replacement work would cost $35 million. Improving tenant and user features would increase that to $61 million. Adding strategic market enhancements would raise the cost to $91 million. Repurposing the Coliseum as a covered open-air arena or indoor track center would push the price tag to $95 million, $115 million or $145 million, depending on the options.

But all of those estimates are above the $23 million that could be spent on the Coliseum from the Oregon Convention Center Urban Renewal Area, where it is located. That money is not dedicated to the Coliseum, however. Although it had been in previous budgets, the budget that took effect on July 1 allows it to be spent on any project within the Urban Renewal Area.

The shortfall doesn’t stop Emmons from urging the council to act now to save the Coliseum. He says the council should spend the $35 million required for basic repairs — and seriously consider additional improvements between the $61 million and $91 million packages.

“If we can only do $35 million, then do $35 million,” says Emmons.

On the other hand, the council is facing several expensive future projects, including renovating the Portland Building, the city’s primary office building next to City Hall. Water leaks are damaging the building, and it does not meet current earthquake standards. The council discussed a number of options for the building during an Aug. 25 work session, with estimates ranging from $95 million to $175 million or more.

When the council asked Miller to prioritize the upcoming projects, he said the Portland Building was essential to the operation of the city because it houses around 1,300 city workers, including many needed during emergencies.

“The Coliseum is nice to have,” Miller said at the time.

The council has not yet scheduled a discussion of the report.

Kicking the Coliseum can

PORTLAND TRIBUNE PHOTO JONATHAN HOUSE - Scott Sisson, Executive Director of Facility Operations at Memorial Coliseum, operates the pipes under the floor of the facility with the help of assist chains. While some operations have been automated through a computer, many are still done manually. Built in 1960, the Coliseum was for many years the city’s only major spectator facility, serving as the home of the Portland Trail Blazers and Portland Winterhawks, and hosting events ranging from national touring concerts to political rallies.

Questions about the future of the Coliseum first surfaced in 1993 when Trail Blazer owner Paul Allen committed to building the larger Rose Garden, now called the Moda Center, in the Rose Quarter near the Coliseum. The Trail Blazers moved to the Rose Quarter after it opened, and many of the larger events were scheduled there, too.

Former Mayor Vera Katz, who brokered the deal with Allen, launched a study for redeveloping the Coliseum site that was never acted upon. Former Mayor Sam Adams, who recommended the Coliseum be replaced with a baseball stadium, changed his mind but could not complete a renovation plan the council accepted.

As the debate ground on, maintenance projects kept being deferred, until Mayor Charlie Hales initiated the new report in hopes of finding a solution the council will support.

Emmons disagrees with some of the options in the report, including the more expensive repurposing ones. He says they would destroy the historic nature of the Coliseum.

“They’re just cuckoo. I don’t know why they were even studied,” says Emmons.

But Emmons is cheered by two of the report’s major findings. First, the report says the Coliseum is still needed. And second, it says even the minimal improvements will attract more events and increase its economic benefit to the city.

According to the report, the Coliseum hosted an average of 117 events over the past three years, including the start of the Portland Rose Festival’s annual Grand Floral Parade. The report also says that maintaining the Coliseum as a spectator facility will meet an ongoing need.

“As discussed in the report, there appears to be demand in the local market for an updated flexible venue with 3,000-8,000 seats. While expensive, renovating the Coliseum will cost much less than building a new facility of this size, and is a more environmentally and economically sustainable approach,” reads Miller’s cover letter.

According to the report, the $61 million package of improvements is predicted to have a $2.1 billion economic impact over 30 years, while the $91 million package would generate $3.5 billion over the 40 years.

“The Coliseum can is an asset, not a liability,” says Emmons.

COLISEUM COSTS

The Veterans Memorial Coliseum Options Study offers a range of possibilities for the building. They include continuing to operate it as is, closing it temporarily or permanently, and demolishing it at a cost of $14 million.

Options for investing in the Coliseum include:

• Essential Repair and Replacement: Focuses on basic system repairs, addresses code requirements, and includes few amenity or functional upgrades — $35 million.

• Tenant and User Experience Enhancements: Adds key amenity enhancements and functional renovations to modestly increase event attendance or the number of events — $61 million.

• Strategic Market Enhancements: Adds improvements needed to make the Coliseum an attractive and competitive facility, including a robust set of facility and amenity enhancements designed to attract event organizers and make it a desirable place to go for event attendees — $91 million.

• Open-air Arena: Significantly modify the building by removing the majority of the glass exterior and removing a portion of the seating bowl to create a covered venue that would primarily serve as a mid-size concert venue — $95 million.

• Dynamic Floor/Indoor Track: Significantly modify the building as first suggested in 2013 to meet the international standards for a sanctioned indoor track and field facility — $115 million to $145 million.

The report can be read at: portlandoregon.gov/cao/68441.

An online survey of the options is at: portlandoregon.gov/cao/68439.

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