Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Portland - The City That Works Except for Sports

I'm actually saddened by the prospect of baseball leaving the Rose City, even with the most recent efforts to try and save the Portland Beavers coming forth. The city commissioners, or specifically one of them, is still trying to put out one last ditch effort to save the team for the city while current ownership is resigned to the fact that if they can't make it work here, it's time to sell the club and move them to an area that can support them. The original idea for baseball was to tear down the Memorial Coliseum, a long standing landmark in the area and put a redesigned ballpark on the site with a redesigned veterans memorial.
Critics of the plan not only got the MC baseball idea stalled, but ended up getting the building a historic designation making any changes to the property now more difficult. And while Portland had gone through an evaluation period of other ideas for the MC, we still sit here over a year later from when the process started, and nothing has been officially decided. The Coliseum still stands, but nobody seems to know what for or in what state the building will be kept in, PGE Park moves towards its future as a soccer/football only facility, and baseball moves out of the area.
And now, the hockey team that is using the MC most often for their games has weighed in to say they want a decision made or they will leave the area. It's bad enough that this process has been completely run into the ground, but when one of the main tenants is frustrated enough to pull up stakes, you know something isn't right here.  But I can understand their frustration because the process itself has been clumsy, misguided and plain inept.
I get the MC has some great memories associated with it, and it's still being used for events right now, as Arcade Fire will visit the old barn this fall. But it's apparent the facility hasn't been kept up, and now it appears there will need to be a serious investment just to get the building to a level to host events without having everything fall apart. So the question really is what does the city gain by investing in the future of an arena that may have a future but also stands to lose their main tenant if they don't do anything?
What convolutes the whole process is the various groups providing input here. The Trail Blazers own the Rose Garden and run the MC, and would prefer to keep events going to the RG because they get more revenue. And if any renovation happens on the MC, they have first refusal rights to either buy into the plan or put their input into the process, so basically anything that changes at the MC must be approved by them. The architectural community view the MC as a landmark, so they would prefer to keep things as they are. The sports community wants a functioning building, which right now would require investment that the city doesn't have funds for and private parties have been unwilling to make into a city facility without some plans or concessions. The Beavers tried and failed, and it appears the hockey team is now being asked to put up or shut up.
For me, the issue is really simple. If we keep the MC as what it is now, a midrange sized arena, spend the money and fix it up so the hockey team has a home. If we want to repurpose it, make it useful for the most possible groups and not just a marketing ploy or some other cheesy area gone bad. If we tear it down, use the area for baseball. But decide on something, because the perpetual back and forth is just getting too old, and now the city stands to lose more than just a baseball team.
Portland has already been shown to be progressive in so many ways, but they lack fortitude and resolve to fund projects that benefit the greater whole of the city. Facilities that are built owned by the city but run for use of sports and events are a great way to create jobs, attract business and travel, and help the city as a whole, but our town hasn't invested money in any stadium renovation since the MC was first built. PGE Park will have been fixed over twice using bonds backed by city funds, but it's been private money that has funded those changes. Sports is good for the area as a whole, but I understand that in the business climate, it's tough to ask people to pay more for something that a small portion of people use and enjoy. But having facilities like this do so much more than just host sports, and I'm hoping the city can see the wonderful opportunity they have in making the MC viable again by either fixing it up or tearing it down to serve another purpose.