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PORTLAND-Billionaire Paul Allen’s Oregon Arena Corp., owner of the Rose Garden Arena and the NBA’s Portland Trailblazers, is painting a $90-million picture for budget-crunched city officials in an effort to gain control of Memorial Coliseum.

The picture–envision the steel-and-glass box adjacent the Rose Garden Arena filled with a Target, a Home Depot and lots of parking, all stacked on different levels–is the private use alternative to three public uses proposed for the 43-year-old building. The $90 million is what Oregon Arena Corp says the city would reap over 30 years from taxes and rent if it signs off on the $40-million project. OAC presented the idea to the City Council this week with would-be development partner Gerding/Edlen Development Co., mastermind of the successful Brewery Blocks Redevelopment in Northwest Portland. Also designed into the project are an adjacent, 15,000-sf public learning center and a 250-seat amphitheater that the duo would develop with a portion of that $90 million.

According to the 1992 development agreement that created the Rose Quarter as it stands today, Oregon Arena Corp. has the right of first refusal to develop all of the city-owned property within the 37-acre Rose Quarter. Those rights include: the space above the city’s two parking garages on the north side of Memorial 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 owns the former Red Lion Coliseum Hotel property on the nearby Willamette riverfront; the hotel has been demolished en route to redevelopment.

The catch is that Oregon Arena Corp.’s development rights for Memorial Coliseum only kick in if the city decides to make all or part of the facility available for private use. Until then, Oregon Arena Corp. is obligated to operate Memorial Coliseum and cover operating losses, which have totaled about $200,000 a year for the past four years as some second-tier indoors sports franchises have failed and stopped renting the facility, according to David Logsdon, the city’s spectator facilities manager.

The Portland Trailblazers won its only national championship in Memorial Coliseum in the late 1970s. The team relocated to the adjacent Rose Garden Arena when it was completed in 1996. Last year, a commissioned study recommended razing the building and redeveloping the site, but it was an unpopular option that was taken off the table by Mayor Vera Katz.

One of the more popular and most expensive public reuse options is to convert the building into a multi-use, multi-level public facility for amateur sports and other recreational activity. The estimated $80-million project would create three levels within the structure, with swimming and hockey on the ground floor, a half-dozen basketball courts on the second floor and an area for things like indoor soccer, gymnastics and lacrosse on the third level.

The two other options, which would cost between $10 million and $20 million, include simply upgrading the facility for its current use–as an overflow sports and entertainment facility for the six-year-old Rose Garden Arena, home to the Portland Trailblazers–or upgrading the facility and transforming an existing below-grade exhibit hall into a community center, says Logsdon.

City staff is now in the process of completing its analysis of the public reuse options and soon will begin a process whereby the City Council will publicly evaluate all options “and make a long-term decision about how we plan to use this building,” says Logsdon. The attractiveness of Oregon Arena Corp.’s offer, which takes advantage of big-box retailers’ interest in finding inner city locations, is that it would cost the city nothing and generate tens of millions in taxes. By contract, the public reuse options would cost the city money and more likely be break-even proposition, however it would meet one of the city’s stated goals, which is to keep the Rose Quarter active as a hub for sports and recreation activities.

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