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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on March 30, 2004 6:06 PM. The previous post in this blog was Topic transition. The next post in this blog is Scam spotlight. Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.

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Tuesday, March 30, 2004

More on the Coliseum

Lily Witham, a community activist in the Buckman neighborhood in southeast Portland, is pretty worked up about the city's plans for the Memorial Coliseum.

Witham and her Buckman neighbors have been trying for years to get the city to turn the old Washington High School, in their neck of the woods, into a community center. The city has agreed to this in principle, but funding for the project is far from secure. Meanwhile, the city has come up with a much faster-tracked plan to turn the Coliseum into a giant recreation center. That train is so far down the track that it already has an acronym: MARC (Metro Athletic and Recreation Compex?).

Witham is convinced that every dollar spent on MARC is one less dollar available for the Buckman center. And in these tight times, she's probably right.

She recently went over to City Hall to testify against immediate funding for a MARC study. And she came back mighty disillusioned. She writes:

I've known for years that Vera is in the pocket of the developers, but seeing it firsthand was absolutely sickening. At last week's (March 17th) city council hearing regarding the MARC proposal the deck was definitely stacked (and guess in whose favour??) The "invited" guests (pro-MARCer's all) were allowed to speak as long as they liked, while we peons had to adhere to the usual 2 minutes. Despite expert testimony from the head of Portland Parks & Rec's Planning Department (who stated quite clearly that the MARC would never make it financially for there just isn't a big enough audience to make a go of it), and reasoned and rational remarks from Commissioners Leonard and Francesconi (who both voted an emphatic "no"), Katz, Sten & Saltzman all voted yes. Saltzman included a lame statement about how "worried he is about Oregon's obesity rates" (yeah, right). Let's face it, the easist and cheapist way to lose weight is to get out and walk. We don't need a 100 million dollar center to lose weight.

I gave testimony against the MARC proposal, reminding the Mayor and commissioners that just one month prior they had voted unanimously for a community center in the Inner Southeast, and promised that our center would be the next one built. I asked Mayor Katz to remember that we have the second highest unemployment rate in the country, that our inability to fund our schools is internationally known and ridiculed. And that we have a brand new jail that we can't afford to open while hard-core criminals walk the streets after being arrested and released out a few hours later, due to lack of space. (This went over like a lead balloon.)

The funding ideas were pie in the sky, $40 million or is it $80 million from the Kroc fund (despite the fact that the project as I understand it is not eligible for the Kroc funds) and some various tax credits, urban renewal funds (read PDC monies) and historic tax credits.

However, the most disturbing thing by far were the "erroneous" statements by Paul Falsetto of the AIA (American Institute of Architects). Mr. Falsetto stated that "the coliseum is eligible for historic status and hence, tax credits." He continued "this project has already been approved by the State Historic Preservation Office" (SHIPO) and has the blessing of the National Trust for Historic Preservation."

A quick phone call to David Silton at the SHIPO office in Salem revealed that the coliseum could be considered eligible for historic status as a modernist building, consisting of a "bowl within a box." However, any significant alteration to the coliseum (including the MARC proposal) would immediately render the building ineligible for historic status. Mr.Skilton stated that he had made this very clear to Mr. Falsetto.

I next called Anthony Veerkamp at the San Francisco Western Regional Office of the Nat'l Trust. Anthony had recently been in Portland to tour the coliseum with Mr. Falsetto and take a look at the plans for MARC. He also made it very very clear to Falsetto that any alterations to the coliseum would cause it to be ineligible for Trust approval.

Outrageous! And although I have sent this information to The Oregonian, Willamette Week and the Trib, no one has even answered my emails.

Well, Lily, at least you have an audience here. Good luck fighting the power.

Comments (6)

My question for Lily and anyone else is: what would YOU do with the Memorial Coliseum? I liked the athletic center idea better than turning it into a Home Depot.

I think that it would have a different, city-wide focus than a Washington High School Site community center.

The question about city funding priorities is quite relevant, however.

My apologies. I just scrolled down to your proposal for the Memorial Coliseum on Sunday. Interesting...

As for baseball, how much would it cost to double-deck PGE Park and add bleachers over 16th Street (it is 16th, isn't it?) out in left field? If you could get the capacity up to about 35,000, it would work.

There's probably some fatal flaw in my logic regarding the existing structure, or the costs, or the complete lack of parking in the area, but it's nice to dream about a major league team here.

The difficulties in renovating PGE park, mostly around the neighborhood association. However, the chances of MLB coming to Portland are looking pretty good.

As for the MC, I appreciate Lily's concerns, but tend to think the MARC would be more centrally located and benenfit the entire city.

That being said, I seriously doubt the Coliseum will be renovated into an amatuer sporting complex. The funding hinges on the new Salvation Army dollars, and a huge sporting complex is not what Mrs. McDonald had in mind when she gave Salvation Army the money.

My guess is that the MC will sit vacant and in disrepair for several more years, before it is finally torn down and replaced with residentia/commercial development.

Unfortunately, I don't have a better idea of what to do with the coliseum. I'm not even against the project per se, but five will get you ten that the taxpayers will be the ones to pick up the tab (as always). But as it stands this is just another Katz vanity project and one last smash and grab for funds to line the feeding troughs of her pet developers.

In addition, community centers are called that precisely because they are located in communities. Not everyone has the time, money or transportation to reach a big regional center. Centers run by Portland Parks & Recreation are accessible to people from all incomes, because the PPR offers scholaships to all low-income people.

The funding ideas were pie in the sky, no one could come up with any clearly defined funding ideas, and nothing penciled out in any reasonable manner.

Then there's the issue of the promise for a community center in the Inner SE, something that was initially proposed 20 years ago. We were "next-up" when the Gabriel Park facility was built, but somehow.....it just didn't pan out. The only thing the "city" has been willing to do for the Inner E is to load us up with methadone clinics, halfway houses, a parole office and so on.

I predict that if the MARC is built, it will never run in the black, and will be bankrupt within a few years.

Lily and I have exchanged a few emails on this one, and it's safe to say we have very different perspectives on the MARC and its possible connection to the Washington High site. She's obviously very concerned about the inner SE community center, and I respect that, though I would ask for some more consideration of our perspective before impugning our motives or our ability to make the MARC fit with the Washington High community center.

Commissioner Sten and the rest of the council have continually expressed their support for the Washington High effort, and basically fear and distrust have caused some of the supporters of this project to oppose the MARC. The Parks budget has never contained any money for acquiring the land, building the center, not operating it--so it's not like the MARC is threatening to actually take away money that's already on the table. Our goal would be to operate the MARC with little or no operating losses.

Clearly, the best chance of success would come from support from the Salvation Army for dedicating Kroc initiative money to the project--there is reportedly both capital money and an operating endowment available. If you look at the prototype Kroc Center in San Diego, it's actually a very close fit to what is proposed for the MARC. The biggest fit is the primary mission behind both the MARC and the Kroc Initiative: giving kids from throughout the city an inexpensive place to have access to recreation facilities.

The Coliseum has been the subject of a lot of study. Other options beside the MARC include tearing it down or turning it into big box retail. From our perspective, these options don't warrant support until something like the MARC has been giving a chance to succeed.

Back to the alleged conflict between the MARC and the Washington High site. Here's what I think: outside of the voter-approved levy, the Parks bureau has been under the knife for years, and I think they understandably view the coming years with enough pessimism that they're helping to create an impression that the MARC and inner SE community center cannot be compatible. I also think this tension is being consciously stirred up by some Council offices that cannot reconcile their budget priorities with promises they have made.

The figure I heard, in addition to the money for land acquisition and construction, is $500,000 a year in operating subsidy that will be necessary for the Washington High community center. Is there a plan to find this money, MARC or no MARC? That's the real question!!

As we've said repeatedly we think these projects can be a good fit for one another. Many inner SE residents have told us that they actually prefer a smaller center than the one proposed by Parks. Whatever the ultimate scale and transportation impact of the inner SE center, we have proposed to Parks and Commissioner Francesconi that we welcome collaborating with Parks to try to minimize any conflicts in program. The response hasn't been warm.

If we're able to actually receive somewhere in the neighborhood of $80 million from the Salvation Army to help construct and operate a roughly 300,000 square foot public recreation center at little or no loss, why in the world wouldn't we seriously entertain this option? All the due diligence, exploration, etc. still has to happen to evaluate the true feasibility of the MARC, but we definitely think it's worth a shot, and so we intend to do that necessary work to see if the MARC can succeed.

At the same time, I actually think we're more prepared to do what's necessary to ensure that the funds are there for acquiring the Washington High site and building the center than some of the critics of the MARC. I've tried to let the Washington High supporters know that we're actually their friends, but I'm content to let our actions on behalf of the inner SE community center do the talking, since reassurances on the front end aren't working for everyone.

Cheers,

Rich Rodgers
Assistant to Erik Sten

OK Rich, name one thing (that can actually be verified) that Sten Saltman or Katz are actively doing to help make the Inner east Side community center a reality. We only need 26 million for our center, versus the 120 million (that's the LATEST figure, it started at 80 million, then 100 million, now 120 milllion, God only knows what the actual costs would be. Case in point- the OHSU tram, which has more than tripled in cost from the original estimates. And of course, there is the fact that MARC does not even remotely fit the mission statement that Kroc left along with her billions.

Even more important is the COMPLETE LACK OF PUBLIC PROCESS, which disappeared during the Katz regime.

Don't you get it?? The taxpayers are SICK of picking up the tab for Vera's little follies. We are sick of her telling us how it's gonna be, and shoving her version of Portland down our throats (and pocketbooks).

Posting little snide remarks about Francesconi isn't going to distract me from the facts at hand; which in this case are that the funding for the MARC is pie in the sky and that at least one person BLATENTLY LIED during the public testimony.


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