Memorial Coliseum upgrades revealed

2-year, $5 million project improves historic city-owned facility

Blazers and Winterhawks employees celebrate improvements to Veterans Memorial Coliseum, November 3, 2017 (Courtesy: Portland Winterhawks)

PORTLAND, Ore. (Portland Tribune) — The Veterans Memorial Coliseum marked the end of a two-year, $5 million refresh on Friday.

The venerable arena, scene of the Portland Trail Blazers’ 1977 Championship win, has been spruced up for the hockey and music fans who regularly use it, in the hope of attracting more convention business.

Outside of the arena, the old concession stands have new electronic signage for menus and the capacity for more food and drink.

The Portland Tribune is a media partner with KOIN 6 News

Other changes attempt to restore the VMC to its original Modernist architecture glory. Large cylindrical lights, shaped like wagon wheels, have been rehung, although there are not as many of them as originally. They are designed to shine up as well as down, to illuminate the underside of the concrete bowl that makes up the seating arena.

Customers can now make us of free Wi-Fi during and after events, instead of having to use their own cellular data.

The design was intended to show off the look of a bowl, supported by just four columns, suspended in a glass box. Outside,the curving canopy, intended to contrast with the building’s rigid box, has had the paint removed from its glulam wooden supports, even though the original architectural firm SOM was not a fan of the look of timber structures during that era.

Mayor Ted Wheeler cut the ribbon on the refresh during a Nov. 3 press conference, accompanied by Blazers and Winterhawks mascots. The VMC is owned by the city and leased to the Rose Quarter.

A sign outside Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Portland's Rose Quarter, Sept. 30, 2014 (KOIN 6 News)
The Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Portland's Rose District, Sept. 30, 2014 (KOIN 6 News)
Sixteen seconds remained before the Trail Blazers beat the Philadelphia 76ers for the NBA championship at Veterans Memorial Coliseum in 1977 (KOIN, file)
Fans storm the court at the Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Portland as the Trail Blazers defeated the Philadelphia 76ers for the NBA championship in 1977 (KOIN, file)
Inside the Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Portland, undated (KOIN, file)
One of the ideas for the Veterans Memorial Coliseum is to have an indoor track. Aug. 31, 2015 (City of Portland CAO)
Chris Oxley, who manages the Rose Quarter and Veterans Memorial Coliseum for the Portland Trail Blazers, says its rare for a city of Portlands size to retain two arenas, but that each serves a valuable function. Undated photo. (Jonathan House/Portland Tribune)
Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Portland's Rose Quarter, Sept. 30, 2014. (KOIN)
Veterans Memorial Coliseum was filled with friends, family and fans of Jerome Kersey, March 2, 2015 (KOIN 6 News)
Friends, family and fans filled the Veterans Memorial Coliseum for the Jerome Kersey memorial, March 2, 2015 (KOIN 6 News)
Veterans Memorial Coliseum front entrance. (City of Portland)
Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Barack Obama D-Ill., left, and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson wave at the Memorial Coliseum in Portland, Ore., Friday, March 21, 2008, where Richardson announced his endorsement of Obama. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Barack Obama D-Ill., accompanied by New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, sepaks at the Memorial Coliseum in Portland, Ore., Friday, March 21, 2008, where Richardson announced his endorsement of Obama. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Wheeler said there was much to do to develop the Rose Quarter where the coliseum and Moda Center, the current home of the Trail Blazers, are located. He cited a 2015 study that said Portland needs a 3,000 to 8,000 person capacity venue, like VMC, and that reinvesting in it would be far more economical than building a new building.

“We have much to do in the northeast quadrant of the city…which feels like a series of islands,” Wheeler said. “Redevelopment is a chance to address past actions that destroyed the heart of Portland’s African American community. We have to be honest and mindful of that history.”

Wheeler also mentioned that the City Council is considering Central City 2035 Plan, which includes the I-5 Rose Quarter Improvement Plan, which is underway. Bike paths and a new pedestrian bridge over I-5 will help connect those “islands.”



Rose Quarter general manager Amanda Mann came to Portland from Houston a year ago, where she ran the Toyota Center used by the Rockets. Her purview includes the Moda Center, the parking garages and the flat area outside the VMC called the Commons. Mann said the VMC has been turning a profit for the last three years.

Two years ago, the VMC received a new center hung video screen and scoreboard. Last year it got a new roof. Does Mann feel the arena is safer from the wrecking ball than it was then?

“The city are showing their commitment,” she said. “We could do more sporting events.”

In late November, to coincide with Nike founder Phil Knight’s 80th birthday, the VMC will host the Phil Knight Invitational, with 16 college hoops teams.

“And more concerts and conferences. We’re working with the city and Travel Portland to try to bring in more work. We went for Outdoor Retailer but Denver got it.” Another pitch, for Interbike, missed too. The show is going to Reno, Nevada. “We’re not competing with the Oregon Convention Center, we’re trying to work with them,” said Mann.

Rebooting Albina

The Hennebery Eddy architecture firm has done a design for the Albina Neighborhood, including the Rose Quarter (Courtesy: Hennebery Eddy)

Architect Stuart Emmons, who is co-chair of the Friends of Memorial Coliseum, said this refresh was a step in the right direction to a full remodel of the building that would save it.

“I wouldn’t say it’s 100 percent safe, but we have a national treasure status, it’s a public building, and several million dollars invested in it, and people are coming around to see that this is a key part of the Albina Vision Project.”

This plan would build apartments around the Rose Quarter, to try to bring back some of the Albina life that was removed in the 1960s. The neighborhood was razed to make way for these arenas, the Portland Public Schools headquarters, and Legacy Emanuel Hospital.

Emmons says the Albina Vision, which was rolled out in September, would mean, “We could let some of these buildings stay and build a more active work, live, play neighborhood instead.”

He would like to see the concrete parking garages torn down.

“Eight years ago we talked about working around them, but the city is growing.”

The suburban-looking car dealerships of Broadway should also make way for more housing as Portland grows. The Hennebery Eddy architecture firm has done a design for the Albina neighborhood.

“The natural forces of what’s happening on Williams and Division will make it happen, those car dealerships will just sell. Private developers will do this, and city council could catalyze development, like by restoring this building, and building infrastructure. This is also the last remaining great area along the Willamette River where we can do good riverfront development,” says Emmons.