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May 28th, 2003 The Nose | The Nose
 

The City of Bulk Pepperoni?

     
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Here's a quick summertime diversion. Make a list of the things that make our city so special.

The Nose's Top 10?

1. Pioneer Courthouse Square

2. Sirloin and Strippers at the Acropolis

3. Forest Park

4. Czech streetcars

5. Timber Jim

6. The quaint charm of Sellwood

7. Mardi Gras Tuesdays at the New Copper Penny

8. Oyster hash at the Bijou

9. Hammerhead Ale at the movies

10. Socks + sandals = fashion
statement

Now, if Trail Blazers boss Paul Allen has his way, the Nose can add another item to the list: turning a publicly owned building into a Home Depot or Costco. Or maybe both!

That's right. Allen announced last week that he would like to convert Memorial Coliseum into a shopping center for big-box retailers. And that noise you just heard was the sound of Portland dropping below Muncie on the list of desirable places to live.

Maybe the Nose isn't being fair. Last week, when Paul Allen employee J. Isaac raved about the proposal on Paul Allen-owned KXL radio to Paul Allen employee Lars Larson, the idea of converting Memorial Coliseum into a big-box retailer began to sound like a true public service.

After all, what civic treasure can compare to the joy of finding a set of studded tires and a 10-gallon drum of pepperoni sticks under the same roof?

Then the reality set in.

Is this really the best our city fathers and mothers can do with a public resource? Have Portland's ambitions evolved to a depressing choice between outrageous (Major League Baseball) or pedestrian (cheap two-by fours and bulk frozen pizzas)?

How did we get to this point?

It's all about money.

Paul Allen's money, to be precise. In 1995, when Allen built the Rose Garden, he insisted that he get to run Memorial Coliseum to ensure the Blazers' old playground didn't compete with his new arena. The city would continue to own the building, but Allen would reap a piece of the profits or incur all of the losses.

Memorial Coliseum has been losing a few hundred thousand bucks a year, but that's not Allen's real concern. No, his big problem is over at the Rose Garden, where some have estimated that Allen and company are losing upwards of $100 million a year!

And while collecting rent from Home Depot won't exactly erase the Blazers payroll problem Allen faces, every little bit helps. If selling a few shower curtains or tubs of Red Vines helps keep Ruben Patterson in town, so much the better.

Of course, there will be a public process this summer to examine Allen's proposal and others, including the intriguing idea to turn the coliseum into a gigantic municipal sports complex. But reportedly, Allen has this retail thing all but wired.

And Mayor Vera Katz is said to be excited about the jobs and taxes Allen's proposal would generate.

Which raises one final question: Will an urban big-box retailer be the capstone to Katz's mayoral tenure?

Actually, it might be the perfect legacy.

 
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