As the date nears to pick one of the three final groups vying to redevelop Memorial Coliseum, debate is heating up. Five members of the Rose Quarter citizen advisory committee have split with the rest of the 31-member committee, saying the process to choose the future of Memorial Coliseum is "seriously flawed." The small group has issued a minority report saying the city should put the brakes on the development process until it resolves contract conflicts with Memorial Coliseum's operators, the Trail Blazer's Portland Arena Management (PAM). In a meeting this afternoon, City Council debated both the minority report and the main citizen report's recommendation to keep on with the current process.

All the points spelled out in the minority report (here as a pdf) lead to one main conclusion: despite looking at hundreds of ideas and hosting dozens of hours of public meetings, the process to choose a new use for the Coliseum is weighted in favor of the Blazers.

Details below the cut.

The current operating agreement for Memorial Coliseum bans any non-PAM owned group running the Coliseum as a spectator facility. That means any group who wants to redevelop the building wouldn't be able to host any concerts or big games—the kinds of events that make lots of money. Mayor Sam Adams office has told the people pitching ideas for Memorial Coliseum to not worry about the contract, that his office would work out any conflicts after the stakeholder committee and city council chose a final plan. But rival redeveloper Doug Obletz said the city should rework its contract with the Blazers now, rather than having the redevelopers spend money and time drawing up plans when the specifics of the contract are still up in the air.

The minority report agrees with Obletz, saying the city needs to rework its contract with the Blazers before it takes formal requests for proposals for the Coliseum. Report writer Will Macht pointed out to City Council this afternoon that, contrary to public perception, the Blazers and PAM make money off the Coliseum (the building has made the city $3.7 million in profit over the past 10 years) and quoted Blazers president Larry Miller saying, "The current agreement is very important to our business model, so any changes to the agreement will need to add significant benefits to PAM."

The Blazers Jumptown, including the Coliseum.
  • The Blazer's Jumptown, including the Coliseum.

While the advisory committee is just supposed to look at uses for the Coliseum, three of the final five plans are closely linked to what happens in the Rose Quarter as a whole. The minority report argues that it's unfair for the Blazers to head into planning process this summer for how to revitalize the Rose Quarter when several of the projects hinge on the nature of the area around Memorial Coliseum.

"It cements the perception that the public process is a cover for a private party, especially one with substantial economic interests, to plan public property for its own economic benefit," says the report.

In the Daily Journal of Commerce, Portland Development Commission staffer Kia Selley responded to the criticism, saying, “The Blazers are open to the discussion of the operating agreement and will very likely need to renegotiate even if their option is selected. Opening up that process at this time is not necessary or appropriate.”

Even if the public process for the future of Memorial Coliseum does favor the Blazers, that doesn't mean their plan is not without real support. Members of the Friends of Memorial Coliseum, the US Green Building Council and the National Trust for Historic Preservation all support the Blazers plan over the other two on the table because it is the only plan that does not remove the Coliseum's iconic bowl.

Council is discussing the plans for Memorial Coliseum now—check back for updates.

Update: Members of the majority of the stakeholder committee call the discussion over the contract conflict a "red herring." They believe that if the Blazers are not the chosen developer, there's no way they would go on their new faith contract.

Update 4:58 pm: Blazers VP of business affairs Larry Miller J. Isaacs gets the chance to sing the praises of the operating agreement. The operating agreement dates back 17 years ago to when the Rose Garden was built with "virtually all private" money. The $34 million that the city put in was to build two parking garages and refurbish the Memorial Coliseum—an investment Miller says has netted the city $60 million.