On January 2nd of the New Year, I went with my family to Memorial Coliseum to watch the Portland Winterhawks take on the Kelowna Rockets.
Thanks to an awesome Winter Classic at Michigan Stadium that combined a shootout with snow flurries, and rapidly building anticipation for the upcoming Olympic hockey tournament in (unfortunately) Sochi, I had puck fever.
But once at the Coliseum, I became very afraid that I had a depressed case of dyslexia, or possibly, vertigo. While our tickets called for us to find our seats by section, or number, all the gates were lettered.
It was an impossible task – almost as tough as finder an usher at the Coliseum – and if the crowd looked soft on Thursday night, it’s because half the people in the building were wondering where they were supposed to sit.
Eventually, we had to sit down somewhere – there were plenty of available seats – so we didn’t miss the game trying to figure out if HH correlated to section 2.
Turns out, we plopped down in a box. And it also turns out that the next box over was the owner’s box. And it turns out that the only way we figured that out was by accidentally walking through it on a hot dog run.
The owner of the Winterhawks – Bill Galacher, a Calgary businessman who bought the team in 2008 – was sitting there in a sweater with his family, and kids climbing all over him as the Winterhawks got blitzed 7-2.
After our little joyride through his box, a blue “Please Do Not Enter” sign emerged at the end of the open box on the side adjacent to where we, and the rest of the We Have No Idea Where We Are Supposed To Sit Club had congregated.
The Western Hockey League is not a glamorous business. The players stay with host families in their home city. Some make it to the NHL, but most don’t. That’s fine. You know what you’re signing up for with minor league sports. And despite all the trouble, and poor performance from the home team, it was a good time.
But the Memorial Coliseum is no place for hockey. Not even minor league hockey. When they can, the Winterhawks play in the building across the way, but the Trail Blazers were hosting the Charlotte Bobcats on Thursday night, and so hockey was relegated to the preverbal basement.
I know the Coliseum is a nostalgic place for the people of Portland and the city itself. But at this point, it’s little more than that. Memorial Coliseum is a horrible hockey arena – there are concrete walls in both end zones that move the fans away from the action and saps the atmosphere in the building.
It’s small – only about 10,000 seats, and barren. The scoreboard screen is broken. The building is close to disrepair. It’s amazing to think that it hosted the NBA less than 20 years ago.
The fact is, the Winterhawks product isn’t as good at the Coliseum. When I want to see a game next, I’ll be sure I go to the
Rose Garden Moda Center.
The city of Portland loses money on Memorial Coliseum each year. The operating costs to keep the building open far outweigh the profits made from half the Winterhawks’ schedule and not much else.
And if Paul Allen brings in the NHL – a possibility that’s out there – then there will be nothing to do with the Coliseum except rent it out for birthday parties.
Attempts have been made over the years in Portland to move forward, to make something of the prime real estate in the Rose Quarter, but nothing has come to fruition. Merritt Paulson wanted to build a ballpark for the Beavers there, but was met with a brick wall of opposition, mostly from veterans, on the ground of the memorial that is very real to fallen soldiers on the site.
The name of the building was officially changed to the Veterans Memorial Coliseum. The Beavers moved to California.
The city and the Winterhawks did commit 30 million dollars to renovations, but those were completed in 2012, and I didn’t see anything new or improved on the second day of 2014. What’d they fix, the vending machines?
There has to be a happy medium here between protecting and recognizing the memorial, and making use of the Coliseum. It’s a poor fit for hockey (and for sitting down), and the Winterhawks better hope that their playoff dates don’t clash with the Blazers in the spring.
It may not be feasible to play the Hawks’ entire schedule at the Rose Garden, but it’s something that should be worked on. Many arenas share NBA and NHL teams.
The Memorial Coliseum just isn’t doing anyone any good right now. Turn it into a recreation center, or a retail district, or a museum, or sink enough money in for huge renovations that will make a real, tangible difference.
Don’t just let the building rot. That’s what’s happening right now. The Rose Garden makes it obsolete and inferior, as it should be. The Coliseum is not a nice arena in this day in age.
Absolutely, the Memorial Coliseum is a Portland gem. We’ll always remember that. But it’s time to put the old place out if its misery.
Abe - why don't you look at coliseumfriends.org and get up on what we have learned. Portland is sitting on something that few people understand. When we get smart, creative people behind using this internationally historically significant mid-century modern building to its best advantage, then even naysayers might see the potential.
I like the idea of that for the track but.....that's going in the convention center. If you wanted to turn it into a world class theater, that's fine, I get that but It's taking up such valuable land space. Can we redesign it at least or is that infringing on the historical registry?
Alright, well the money does not need to come from the city Brian, that's my issue. It maybe unique but I venture to say this was pushed through hastily to make it a national registered monument. I get nostalgia and all, believe me that was where I was weened on sports and learned how to be a sociable person. It is a sound building because effectively it is a square with a circle inside. with weird sight lines, and all of that antiquated garbage. If you gut that building, it as at least $50 million (random number, no reference btw) and why do we need to renovate it? What are we going to use it for? The blight that the empty Rose Quarter has become is only exacerbated by the glass edifice.
You have got to be shitting me Brian?! Have you been inside of it? It's hilarious and the even more hilarious part is that yeah, in 199 freaking 3 it hosted NBA Playoff basketball. It is a disgrace and the fact that many in this community don't know how awesome it is to go to a ball game with mom or dad and catch a game in beautiful weather with a nitrate dog and some suds blows my mind. It's like I grew up in a completely different country in this city sometimes.
Please don't lose faith in this building. It's about to be restored! Tearing down a national landmark is not the Portland way.
@Stuart Emmons Thanks for pointing me towards the website. While me may disagree on the potential/significance of the building, getting smart and creative people to work on this is absolutely the way to go.
@goducks1983 - The convention center is listed as the official venue, but I've heard unofficially that this is probably a place-holder venue while Nike and the city look at the Coliseum. Here's a recent Portland Tribune article about it: http://portlandtribune.com/pt/9-news/204753-track-event-spurs-new-look-at-coliseum. And honestly, doesn't a track meet in a convention center sound weird? To answer your other question, the building can certainly be redesigned, as long as it remains a multi-purpose venue. You say it's taking up valuable land, but a public arena that draws hundreds of thousands of people a year is an asset and not a drain. If you want to discuss making best use of the overall Rose Quarter development, the problem is clearly the above-ground parking garages shared by the Coliseum and the Moda Center. The city needs to bury that parking underground and sell the right to build atop the garages to developers. That will reap many millions for the city and pay for the Coliseum restoration along with the private-sector funds. Think of it this way: the City has a historic arena that experts around the country say is significant. The building needs repairs, but once the repairs are done the venue will bring hundreds of millions more in economic activity to the city. And the private sector is ponying up a good chunk of the repair/restoration costs just to be able to get in on that. If you redevelop the parking garages into usable real estate and improve the whole neighborhood along the way, that's a win for everybody.
@goducks1983 - Your concerns make sense and I don't think we're as far apart as you might believe. The building could never be saved if there weren't a business case for it. But the Coliseum remains busy even though it's in disrepair, with over 100 events per year. More importantly, the redesign plan would downsize the arena's capacity from 12,000 to about 8,000 (because of new seating), and that puts the building in a size range that Portland otherwise lacks, so a restored Coliseum would help the city attract some mid-sized concerts and shows (too big for the Schnitz, too small for the Moda Center) that otherwise wouldn't come to town. That all generates economic activity for the city: hotels, restaurants, etc. What's more, it's a public-private partnership, so even though it's a city-owned building the WinterHawks, for example, are contributing $10 million. The Blazers and Nike may also contribute, in Nike's case if the building hosts the 2016 US indoor track & field championships that are already scheduled to come to Portland. Also, the urban renewal funds that would be used for the city's portion of the bill are already spent. The Coliseum is located in one of the city's urban renewal districts, so property tax dollars have already been allotted to projects like this that are judged to be net-income generators for the city.
@goducks1983 - I've been inside it, and I see it differently from you. The building is 100 percent structurally sound and needs a restoration that fixes things like the scoreboard, the seating and the entry sequence. But otherwise it's in solid shape. I hear what you're saying about it being in disrepair. Things like the old scoreboard and seats make the building feel old. But technically the building is very salvageable. And just because you call it a disgrace doesn't mean it's so. The National Trust for Historic Preservation, the US Green Building Council and the American Institute of Architects have all called for its preservation. And a structural/architectural assessment two years ago by the City of Portland confirmed that is 100 percent sound and only need be subject to cosmetic repairs. Great cities just don't tear down their most world-renowned buildings.
@BrianLibby Time to let it go. The economics don't make sense as a sports arena. Build a frame inside the building a turn it into an office building or perhaps a museum.