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Track event spurs new look at coliseum

Hales says revamped venue could host world championships


by: TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Portland Mayor Charlie Hales is considering a new focus on renovating the Veterans Memorial Coliseum in time to host some of the 2016 International Indoor Track and Field competition.Mayor Charlie Hales is thinking about renovating the Veterans Memorial Coliseum in time to accomodate the 2016 World Indoor Track & Field Championships.

On Nov. 15, Portland won the bid to host the event scheduled for March 18 through 20, 2016, at the Oregon Convention Center.

But Hales told the Portland Tribune last Friday that a renovated coliseum might be a better venue for the event — even though it would cost more than the $30 million in maintenance improvements that have been under discussion for years.

“If we could leverage the 2016 World Indoor Track & Field Championships, we could come up with a compelling vision for the coliseum that could host a variety of athletic activities in the future,” Hales said.

No preliminary plan or budget has yet been prepared for such additional work. But Hales has assigned Ed McNamara of his staff to the project and discussions already are underway with potential partners, including the Portland Trail Blazers, which manages the coliseum on behalf of the city.

Decisions must be made soon in order to complete the renovations within 26 months, however, Hales said.

The future of the coliseum, which opened in 1961, has been cloudy for years. It has been largely neglected by the city since the Moda Center, formerly the Rose Garden, opened in the Rose Quarter. Mayor Sam Adams proposed tearing it down to make way for a new baseball stadium for the Portland Beavers, but that idea was abandoned after architects and historic preservations organized a campaign to save it through nomination to the National Register of Historic Places. The coliseum won historic status several months later.

Adams then appointed an advisory committee to solicit and review ideas for the coliseum. One involved turning it into an athletic complex with an indoor velodrome, or bicycle race track. Adams pulled the plug on the process, however, after determining that the ideas would all cost too much money.

Instead, Adams proposed bringing the coliseum up to existing standards for spectator facilities. He said it needed around $30 million in maintenance and upgrades to remain competitive. Among other things, the wiring, plumbing and HVAC system need to be replaced. Kitchen facilities also were proposed to allow meals to be cooked and served on site.

Possible funding sources included $20 million in urban renewal funds and $10 million from the Portland Winterhawks, the coliseum’s existing anchor tenant. But the City Council refused to approve the package before Adams left office, citing uncertainty about the cost estimates. After he took office in January, Hales deferred taking action on the coliseum until he had an opportunity to study its needs.

Gail Shibley, Hales chief of staff, was among the Portland delegation that traveled to Monaco in mid-December to pitch the International Association of Athletic Federations, the world governing body for track and field, on awarding the 2016 meet to Portland. The city won, even though the Oregon Convention Center has never been used for such an event before.

Hales said the renovation will cost more than the $30 million that is currently available, although he does not know how much more or where the money will come from.

“It could be a lot, but it could make the coliseum a viable spectator facility for 20 more years,” Hales said.