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Debate rages over Portland’s Memorial Coliseum

There’s never been an instance where two major arenas have financially thrived in the same market. Portland has two of them in the same small area, so it’s no wonder Memorial Coliseum is having issues. But tearing it down, say advocates, is the wrong way to go.The debate over the future of Portland’s Memorial Coliseum goes on, as the city continues looking at a plan to tear down the 1960s-era Memorial Coliseum to make way for a new Portland Beavers ballpark and entertainment district.

The debate covers two big issues: historic preservation and modern arena economics. And they are colliding like mad.

First, a little background: when it was completed in 1960, Memorial Coliseum was the center of sports and concerts in Portland and served as a financially successful home of the Portland Trail Blazers (NBA). But the Blazers ownership — i.e., Paul Allen and his crew of vulcans — decided the Coliseum wouldn’t do in the modern arena, so they built the Rose Garden and worked out a deal to manage both facilities.

We all know what happens in that situation: the city-owned Memorial Coliseum is a poor cousin to the Rose Garden, with the Blazers doing a pretty lousy job of running and maintaining the facility.

So now we have a plan from the Blazers to totally eliminate any competition and receive a taxpayer-funded entertainment district, as well as a lot of fans attending Bevos games. It’s a prettuy good deal for the Blazers.

Not so much for the Portland Winter Hawks (WHL), who went from one of the major draws in junior hockey to a footnote on the local sporting scene after being shuttled back and forth by the Blazers between the two facilities. And not so much for the city, which had to take back mnaintanance of the Coliseum.

We’ve been to Winter Hawks games in both venues, and one thing is clear; while we love the architecture of Memorial Coliseum, the Rose Garden makes for a better experience because it has all the amenities.

Much of this isn’t of concern to preservationists, who see the lovely design of the Coliseum and want to preserve it. But it’s important for preservationists to actually come up with an economic plan to ensure the Coliseum’s viability — and that economic plan may be directly at odds with the Trail Blazers, which could make for a sticky political situation.