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Coliseum's Fate Awaits New Game Plan

People all over the country see Portland’s Rose Garden, whenever a Trail Blazers’ home game airs nationally. But they seldom see what’s next door.

The Memorial Coliseum has hosted countless sporting events over the years. Now it’s in the middle of a different kind of competition.

As Rob Manning reports, the region’s two wealthy sports owners are competing over what to do with the historic coliseum.

The Trail Blazers have won one championship in their 30-plus years in Portland. It was 32 years ago, at Memorial Coliseum.

 Rose Quarter

Announcer: “Here’s McGinnis, Lucas comes up, McGinnis for the tie, it’s off - it’s over - Portland has won the championship, 109 to 107!”

And some of the most famous rock bands in history have played at the Memorial Coliseum. The Beatles played in 1965, Led Zeppelin in ‘72, and the Grateful Dead came almost every year through the mid-‘70s.

But since the Rose Garden opened 14 years ago, the future of the Coliseum and the whole Rose Quarter has been in question.

The Rose Quarter is pretty quiet when there's no concert, or Blazers game. And that’s a problem that city leaders would like to fix.

Larry Miller: “We have a vision for what the Rose Quarter should be.”

That’s Larry Miller, president of the Portland Trail Blazers. He’s talking about something called "live block" entertainment.

Blazers’ rep, Jay Isaac spoke to a city advisory group, this week, about the idea.

Jay Isaac: “There’s a public plaza, a stage, video screen, and then it’s surrounded on all four sides by two stories of restaurant and clubs, and it becomes a very happening evening location.”

The Blazers are working with the Cordish Company, which has similar developments in Louisville and Kansas City. Isaac says Portland’s entertainment district would include wind turbines and solar panels on the roof of the covered plaza. And Isaac says that roof, ideally, would be Memorial Coliseum’s roof.

Jay Isaac: “This assumes that either there is no AAA baseball stadium, or we find a place for the AAA baseball stadium that does not sacrifice the coliseum property.”

See, there’s the rub.

Minor league sports owner, Merritt Paulson, now has city support for building a park for his baseball team, ideally, where Memorial Coliseum is now.

Paulson originally spoke of having the park in the working class Lents neighborhood. City commissioner Randy Leonard confirmed Paulson’s change of heart, last week.

Randy Leonard: “It was clear that the Paulson family was willing to make private investments in the Rose Quarter that they would not make at the Lents site.”

Portland leaders approved Paulson’s plan last Wednesday, but not before hearing from Jay Isaac, with the Trail Blazers.

Jay Isaac: “So our concern is about money to create our vision, our concern is enough property to create our vision.”

Randy Leonard: “I suppose I’m a little disturbed at what you’re saying because we’ve been having conversations.”

City commissioner, Randy Leonard.

Randy Leonard: “In fact I’ve seen drawings that you’ve produced that shows a AAA site on the coliseum property with the entertainment district development, so I guess I’m just a little confused.”

Jay Isaac, and his boss, Blazers’ president, Larry Miller say that the ballpark and entertainment district could work together, but it’d be expensive. And Miller says the city isn’t offering the Blazers enough to make their vision a reality.

Larry Miller: “The money that was proposed for our project, it didn’t work, it caused us not to be able to complete our project. And so our thought is let’s sit down and see if there’s the possibility of doing both.”

The next domino to fall may come any day when Major League Soccer could offer Portland a franchise. Then, the city will have to finalize where the public money is coming from.

The Blazers will be watching all of that closely — because of its impact on their idea of an entertainment district that can bring people — and their money — to the Rose Quarter, when the sports teams aren't playing.

 Rose Quarter

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