PORTLAND, OR-The local NBA team here is promoting a yet another new plan for turning the 37-acre Rose Quarter, home to its 13-year-old Rose Garden arena and the 50-year-old Memorial Coliseum, into a 24-hour mixed-use district. The Trailblazers organization’s latest scheme calls for keeping the old while adding condos, apartments, hotels, office space and restaurants and retailers in several new buildings. The Trailblazers organization is owned by billionaire Paul Allen of Microsoft fame, which also owns property next to the Rose Quarter on the nearby Willamette riverfront.
Marketing for the Trailblazers new plan, including the rollout of the imaginejumptown.com web site, is running alongside a public request for ideas on how to jumpstart the Rose Quarter by Portland Mayor Sam Adams and his new Rose Quarter Stakeholders Committee, which is accepting plans for fixing the Rose Quarter through its own web site, rosequarterdevelopment.org.
The Trailblazers’ plan includes a new name for the Rose Quarter, Jumptown, in deference to the area’s life in the 1940s and 50s as a home to jazz and blues clubs, which was chronicled in Robert Dietsche’s 2005 book, “Jumptown: The Golden Years of Portland Jazz 1942-1957.”
The Rose Quarter has yet to have any “golden years.” Operating since the mid-1990s, the Rose Quarter has been the lively place everyone envisioned only on game and concert nights, which wasn’t enough to sustain restaurants like Cucina Cucina and TGI Friday’s that once operated there. The only restaurants currently operating in the Rose Quarter are inside the Rose Garden arena and are only open on event nights, and only to those with tickets to the event.
The initial development agreement between the city and the Trailblazers organization for the rose quarter, inked in 1992, resulted in the Rose Garden Arena, three parking structures and an adjacent office building with ground-floor retail that opens onto a public plaza. It also gave the organization control of several parcels that remain undeveloped, underdeveloped or, in the case of 40-year-old Memorial Coliseum, in 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 and all of the restaurants and retailers outside of the arena have since shut down.
In 1998, the Trailblazers organization Schnitzer Development Corp. to produce a third report on development options for the 37-acre Rose Quarter but it wasn’t released to the public. A fourth report in mid-2001 by Urban Design Associates report concluded 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 retained all existing buildings but renovates them for other uses. Late that year, the city gave the Trailblazers another 18 months to come up with specific plans for fulfilling its commitment to turn the Rose Quarter into something special.
In mid-2002, three options for what to do with the Memorial Coliseum were detailed this at a public meeting. The ideas’ cost ranges from $20 million to $80 million. The least expensive option was a partial deconstruction of the building’s glass facade to create of a roofed, open air amphitheater for concerts and other stage performances. The most expensive option envisioned a three-level amateur sports complex with swimming and hockey on the ground floor, a half-dozen basketball courts on the second floor and third, mixed-use level that could be used for things like indoor soccer, gymnastics and lacrosse, among other options. The in-between option was to renovate the facility for big league hockey, including two-levels of sky-box seats and a dine-while-you-watch-restaurant.
In late 2002, then- Mayor Vera Katz acknowledged that an informal policy decision has been made to no longer consider demolition of Memorial Coliseum a redevelopment option. In May 2003, the Trailblazers organization proposed filling the Memorial Coliseum with a Target, a Home Depot and lots of parking. The idea met much resistance and never went anywhere. Jumptown is the next attempt at a plan that will gain the public approval necessary to get a majority of the city council on board.