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