MEMORIAL COLISEUM General Manager Chris Oxley was blunt: "There are potentially really catastrophic challenges with this space," he told the crowd of citizens, mayoral staffers, and Trail Blazers management bigwigs touring the historic building on Monday, October 12. Over the next year, a city-run citizens' advisory group has to agree on a new use for the building, which has a beautiful shape but rusty pipes, no loading dock, and far too many seats.
Portland hopes Memorial Coliseum will serve as the cornerstone of an overhaul of the Rose Quarter. At a meeting in late September of the Rose Quarter's citizen advisory group, historian Bob Dietsche presented a juicy history of what the area used to be before mid-century urban renewal projects razed the "Jumptown" neighborhood to build Memorial Coliseum.
"This was the street that never slept," said Dietsche, describing blocks of jazz clubs and restaurants where "zoot-suited hipsters and jungle queens with red nail polish... people who were on the cutting edge of integration in a city that had been called the most segregated in America."
Now, as the city starts in on the years-long process to turn the Rose Quarter into a mixed-use, 24-hour entertainment district, the Trail Blazers have already chosen a name for the renewal: Jumptown.
"What we're planning to do is go back to make this a part of the neighborhood and a part of the community again," says Larry Miller, Trail Blazers team president, in his corner office overlooking the vast parking lots that cut off the Rose Quarter from Northeast neighborhoods.
Though the Blazers' Portland Arena Management group has special development rights over the Rose Garden and Memorial Coliseum, they are not guaranteed a golden ticket for their redevelopment plan.
"I want to see all the ideas before running with the best one," says Mayor Sam Adams, emphasizing that the citizen advisory committee will review redevelopment plans from any interested parties. That's why Portland Arena Management is working carefully to craft a fail-proof proposal, and making sure to get plenty of face time with the people who will vote on the redevelopment, Miller says.
On the morning of Monday, October 12, Miller presented his Jumptown plan to the citizen committee while the group snacked on fruit and doughnuts in the basement of Memorial Coliseum, waiting for the tour of the building to begin.
The three-hour tour around the Rose Quarter showed both the opportunity for an attractive, central entertainment destination and the failures of past urban renewal plans. Three shuttered restaurants next to the Rose Garden have been turned into a gym and "event hospitality area." A strip of riverfront property perfectly situated for offices or condos has most recently been home to a rock-crushing factory and gravel parking lot. One thing is clear: turning back the clock is going to take a lot of time.