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Arena is put on heritage list, but it's not out of the woods yet.



TRIBUNE PHOTO: JOSEPH GALLIVAN - Veterans Memorial Coliseum and the black curtain which blocks the spectacular 360 degree view out of the glass box. The curtain mechanism is too old to be able to pull it back and forth so it is left closed.

Veterans Memorial Coliseum took a step closer to survival Thursday. The Coliseum, where the Blazers won their championship in 1977 and where high schoolers graduate every summer just before the Rose Parade trundles through, has been selected as an official National Treasure.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation, a non-profit with a charter from Congress, added the Coliseum to its list of just 60 buildings which include the Palace of the Governors in Santa Fe, New Mexico (built in 1610) to the Grand Canyon, where they are trying to prevent development on the rim.

The designation does not confer any legal protection on a project. Some treasures become national parks or national monuments, through the NTHP’s lobbying. After the challenge in 2009, VMC was put on a register of National Historic Places, which would make it harder but not impossible to demolish.

Clean lines

The Coliseum is the first site to obtain the designation in Portland. It did so though a combination of design and civic value.

Barbara Pahl, Senior Vice President of Field Services, National Trust for Historic Preservation, told the Tribune, “When buildings get to be 35, 40 years old, their systems need to be replaced,” she said, referring to the mechanical, electrical and plumbing, as well as the need for a new roof and digital technology.

“You have a make a decision, should it move forward into the future or let it go. Once you let it go, and demolish it, that’s a one-time decision. But renovating it is a decision you have to make every 50 or so years.”

“This has been talked about for a quite a while, now there’s a change of leadership in the city and perhaps this is the time for this commitment, to create a future for this place.”

Anthony Veerkamp, a San Francisco-based Field Director at the NTHP, said “I’ve been hearing about this building for years, but it was when the Moda Center opened that we recognized decisions would need to be made long term to make sure the appropriate investments continue be made.”

Line for the ladies

Many thought there was no longer a need for a 3,000-8,000 seat arena.

“We used to focus exclusively on architecture, but now we’re considering much more broadly the role that buildings play in communities,” he said, pointing out the sentimental attachment many pre-Rose Garden Portlanders have to the place.

“It would be more heavily used if it had modern amenities spectators expect today.” He said that aside from the leaking roof, the concessions are lacking, the seats are too small and access for the disabled is bad. “And the women’s restroom situation is a disaster.”

Who’s paying?

Thursday morning, Mayor Hales was busy pitching Portland in the Smart Cities competition. Commissioners Nick Fish and Amanda Fritz both showed up and spoke in support of saving VMC.

Although it’s a city-owned building, most of the money will ultimately have to come from private sources. Defenders say a revamped VMC will attract more visitors and stimulate local spending.

City Commissioner Fish talked about the Winterhawks recommitting $10 million to the upkeep of the building, and “conversations with Nike about potentially a partnership. The long-term success will be a public-private partnership with other community people coming in and investing, but the city has to make a commitment from the beginning that we’re going to preserve the building."

International Style

Brian Libby of Friends of Memorial Coliseum (and Business Tribune architecture columnist) talked of Veterans Memorial Coliseum as a significant International Style Modernist civic structure. He said the whole thing is supported on just four columns, and that you used to be able to see downtown from your seat until the dreaded black curtain went up.

“A movable curtain has blocked that view for 99 percent of the building’s history, and today Coliseum operators are reticent to open the curtain because its mechanism needs refurbishment.”

Barbara Pahl added that the building was not just well-designed by architects Skidmore Owings and Merrill, “It’s really well built with good quality materials, which didn’t always happen in the 1960s.”

Other mid century buildings they have classed as treasures include the Miami Marine Stadium, the Houston Astrodome and the New York State Pavilion in Queens.

No more civic vandalism

The Trust makes decisions about these buildings three times a year. They vet places by talking to elected officials, community members and architects to gauge their significance and saveability.

Commissioner Fish warned of the “civic vandalism” he has seen in every city he has lived in, places knocked down for so-called progress. For example in his birth city New York, the destruction of the old Penn Station. “We are all here today to say ‘Not here in Portland Oregon.’”

“In the short term it’s a commitment to preserve it. It’s faced the wrecking ball a number of times – minor league baseball, a Costco, etcetera. We had to create the political will to preserve it,” Fish told the Tribune.


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COLISEUM COSTS

The city released a report in September 2015 prepared by the Office of Management and Finance. The minimum maintenance requirements exceed the available funds. Upgrading the Coliseum beyond that will cost up to $122 million more than the city has not budgeted for.

The report says doing the essential repair and replacement work would cost $35 million. There is $23 million that could be spent on the Coliseum from the Oregon Convention Center Urban Renewal Area. It is not dedicated to the Coliseum, however.

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.

TRIBUNE PHOTO: JOSEPH GALLIVAN - Members of the National Trust for Historic Preservation spoke about why Veterans Memorial Coliseum deserves to be a National Treasure on June 8, 2016. The designation affords the building no special legal protection from the wrecking ball, but is considered a useful political ally in the fight to save it.


Bill Walton, the star center of the Blazers’ 1977 championship, sent a message including the following:

"Thirty-nine years ago…I was there as our Blazer team won the NBA championship at this magnificent shrine and temple —the Memorial Coliseum. I'll never forget that day, not only as a defining moment in Oregon sports history and my life, but also as a statewide explosion of joy, happiness and civic pride.

Today most all of the other NBA arenas I played in have been torn down. But Veterans Memorial Coliseum still stands tall and proud because of its very special place in our lives and as a one-of-a-kind work of architecture. I will always be able to say, that yes—I was there… In the spring of 1977… And also today—the day we saved our Glass Palace.”


Rose Festival events: The Queen’s Coronation at 8:30 a.m. Saturday June 11 at Veterans Memorial Coliseum, followed by the Grand Floral Parade at 10 a.m. from the Coliseum to downtown Portland.

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