Colossal Ideas 

Five Pitches for the Future of Memorial Coliseum

MEMORIAL COLISEUM is saved from demolition—now the city has to figure out what to do with it.

The Trail Blazers have special development rights over the venue, but Mayor Sam Adams has assured the city the future of the coliseum is not a done deal. The Blazers have yet to unveil their grand idea for the historic building, and up until the January 8 deadline, anyone from crackpot to corporation can pitch an idea on the city website (rosequarterdevelopment.org) for how to use the coliseum. The top ideas will eventually go to a vote at city council. Of the 40 proposals citizens pitched so far, we ran five contenders past a panel of qualified judges.

The Judges:

Lew Frederick, a 30-year Northeast Portland resident and recently appointed state representative for the district that includes the Rose Quarter.

Don Mazziotti, former director of the Portland Development Commission (PDC), now heading up the Beaverton Community Development Department.

Vanessa Renwick, a public artist who helped preserve the Lovejoy Columns and made a documentary about the House of Sound, a demolished African American record store on North Williams.

Brian Libby, the architecture critic who fought tooth and nail to stop the city from demolishing Memorial Coliseum last year.

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Year-Round Farmers Market

The pitch: Portland's answer to Seattle's Pike Place Market. No rain to ruin your organic bread loaves and, hey, the smell of fish inside the coliseum could be "charming."

FREDERICK: "A centralized farmers market would likely attract a sizable audience, but the smaller markets bring both fresh fruit and veggies and a fresh sense of community and identity that is not quantifiable."

MAZZIOTTI: "I don't think the building is designed or suitable for that kind of use. Pike Place Market is far smaller than Memorial Coliseum and its surrounding neighborhood is super dense. That's what allows Pike Market to flourish, in addition to the tourist trade."

RENWICK: "This seems like a great idea. Having stopped at the Pike Place Market for over 25 years, it is always packed to the gills. You could take the MAX from the airport to the coliseum, rent a bike, get some food, and ride off to your destination."

LIBBY: "This could be a great idea for activating Memorial Coliseum's huge underground exhibit hall, with the help of some skylights. However, any plan that necessitates removing the seating bowl, which is protected in the building's National Register listing, would disqualify it from consideration in my mind."

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Indoor Amusement Park

The pitch: Apparently Memorial Coliseum is crying out for a log flume. Several groups proposed amusement parks in the modernist building, including one suggesting the construction of a large roller coaster and another pitching a Mall of America-type interior.

MAZZIOTTI: "I think that Portlanders would find a Mall of America concept totally abhorrent to their sensibilities."

FREDERICK: "I'd anticipate some kind of recreational attraction in the area because, broadly speaking, that's the niche it has filled for decades. But I doubt being so close to the Lloyd Center and downtown, we'd see a new mall."

LIBBY: "This is a joke, right? Don't get me wrong: I'm not above the occasional ride at an amusement park. Portland's own Oaks Park is a hoot. But the Scrambler and the Tilt-a-Whirl do not make a viable solution for what to do with a modernist glass palace in the center of the city—one built to honor veterans of World War I and II."

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Museum

The pitch: What about an environmental history museum to anchor the newly christened eco-district?

FREDERICK: "A staid exhibit-driven museum? No. Shrinking the arena while providing space for a variety of sports venues or events interests me."

MAZZIOTTI: "It's an interesting idea but the operating costs for an obsolete building, which the Memorial Coliseum is, are going to be enormous. While I was at the PDC, we were approached by a group who wanted to develop the coliseum as a peace museum. It was a very good idea totally consistent with the memorial it's supposed to be, but in the end, you'd have to have a huge philanthropic effort to support the cost involved."

RENWICK: "I am all for great museums, but the economy is wack here, seeing as the Oregon Historical Society is barely clinging to existence."

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Memorial Athletic and Recreation Center (MARC)

The pitch: Developer Doug Obletz rallied support last year for turning the coliseum into a public gym to include a pool and host some sports events. Obletz has not formally pitched the idea on the city website, yet, saying he's afraid the Blazers' special development rights will out-muscle his plan.

MAZZIOTTI: "This is the best idea I've heard so far, but again, it's all a matter of money. Because it would be used by a wide community, I think the capital investment in such a facility could be retired—but the operating cost would be enormous. That is, without a corporate sponsor who could handle the operating deficit."

LIBBY: "I have mixed feelings. We need a reason for people to come to the Rose Quarter other than just big events or for bars and restaurants. It just has to fit in with the preservation of the coliseum. But so far the MARC plan calls for removing the coliseum's seating bowl, a fatal flaw."

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Velodrome

The pitch: Portland's favorite superlative is "best cycling city in America." How about the city help fund a top-notch bicycle racing track in the coliseum's bowl?

RENWICK: "I think this is a good idea. Knowing how bike-crazy this town is, it could only be very popular."

LIBBY: "From both a community development and a financial perspective I don't think a single-use idea such as a velodrome is a good idea. Memorial Coliseum is a multipurpose arena that already draws as many events as the Rose Garden. Why trade many uses for just one?"

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