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PORTLAND-The future of Memorial Coliseum remains on hold until 2003 now as Oregon Arena Corp. was granted another 18 months to come up with specific plans for fulfilling its commitment to turn the Rose Quarter into something special.

The new memorandum of understanding, signed between OAC and the City last week, comes a little short of a decade after 1992 Rose Quarter development agreement with Allen resulted in the Rose Garden Arena, three parking structures and an adjacent office building with ground-floor retail that opened onto a public plaza. It also gave Allen control of several parcels that remain undeveloped, underdeveloped or, in the case of 40-year-old Memorial Coliseum, in dire need of redevelopment.

The time between these two agreements has seen several plans for the area rise and fall along with several retailers who gambled on the partially completed redevelopment of the 37-acre mostly industrial area wedged between a couple of freeways, a river and other major arterials.

Excitement around the original plan brought in major restaurant and retail concepts like Cucina Cucina Italian Cafe, TGI Friday’s Front Row Sports Grill and Nike into the Quarter. The ensuing 1995 Rose Quarter master plan laid out the strategy for creating the district, but those involved in the process say few, if any, of the proposals were ever implemented.

Since then, all of the aforementioned retailers have ceased operations save for Cucina Cucina. Real estate sources say the Schwartz brothers’ restaurant chain is either paying a discounted rent or able to make it work by using employees from its nearby Tigard location, one of the Seattle-based company’s better performing stores.

In 1998, Allen hired Portland-based Schnitzer Development Corp. to produce a third report on development options for the 37-acre Rose Quarter. The report, which hasn’t been released to the public, reportedly contains specific development options laid out for each piece of property.

A fourth report in 2001 by Urban Design Associates report concludes that the preferred option, tearing down the Coliseum, would open up the equivalent of four city blocks, allowing for new development on a traditional street grid. The non-preferred option retains all existing buildings but renovates them for other uses.

Both scenarios, however, envision better pedestrian access, a remodeled light rail transit station, more park space and better access to the nearby Willamette riverfront, in part by capping sections of Interstate 5. In fact, the Urban Design report suggests that if the Memorial Coliseum is torn down and a major league baseball stadium is not built in the area — but instead it is filled with apartments, office space and ground-floor restaurants and retail shops — the Rose Quarter “could potentially be one of the most dynamic and exciting new districts in the city … .”

Allen has development rights to all of the city-owned property within the Rose Quarter, and also owns the former Red Lion Coliseum Hotel on the nearby riverfront. Specifically, Allen has air rights above the two parking garages on the north side of the Coliseum, a half-acre parcel west of the garage structures, another half-acre parcel on the south side of the Coliseum and the Coliseum itself. Allen also has tried to purchase from the nearby grain silos from Louis Dreyfus Corp. on more than one occasion.

Jay Isaac, Allen’s right-hand man in Portland, was unable to be reached late last week to talk about the latest agreement and how its fits into the mix. Last December, he told GlobeSt.com that in the Schnitzer report, “we went to the point of having experts in each area (office, hospitality, retail, entertainment) give us their opinion on what usages might work, and then analyzed the profitability of each usage,” Isaac told GlobeSt.com. “We didn’t find anything that should immediately be developed.”

Indeed, they concluded some of their development rights probably wouldn’t amount to much at all. Isaac said they found “limited” opportunities for the “air rights” above the parking structures. He said they cannot support the weight of an office building – meaning an expensive superstructure would have to be built – and they’re too heavily used for Rose Quarter events to be shut down during construction.

The study also “took a real good look” at office space on most of the development sites, but with two new office buildings going up downtown (both have been completed since this quote, and now several more are planned), “we didn’t (identify) anything in the current business cycle that we felt hit a normal investors hurdle right.”

Given recent events, it’s extremely likely Isaac would draw the same conclusion today. The new plans, however, to be drawn up over the next 18 months, will be looking at how to take advantage of the market two years from now, not today. The continued success of the Pearl District, a former warehouse district now filling up with condos, restaurants and retail shops, will likely result in an attempt to repeat it in the Rose Quarter. If the Pearl District stalls, yet another scenario may arise for the Rose Quarter.

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