Tuesday, April 14, 2009

To Save or not to Save?

Architects, preservationists, design-types are up in arms about the proposal to demolish the Memorial Coliseum to make way for a AAA baseball park. They cite it as a shining example of the International Style of architecture. I'll admit that this is a style that I often think of as functional, ugly, boring, abrupt, etc. But I do have a soft spot in my heart for the Coliseum - I attended Blazer games, rock concerts and other events there and I was always impressed by two things: One, when you are inside, the wall of glass creates this wonderful transparency that is unmatched in any other arena I have been in. There is not the feeling of being enclosed when you are on the concourses like you are in the Rose Garden. Two, the structure is so simple - a big box around a concrete bowl - that it allows you to think about structure and design at the same time.

But it is aging and doesn't really have a major tenant, so it is worth saving? There have been proposals to turn it into a number of other things, most notably perhaps a multi-sports recreational facility. But though discussion have gone on for years, no obvious use for which it is the appropriate size and shape has arisen. Do we really need two arenas? Is there an economic model to support substantial investment in the old structure? It is worth noting, perhaps that many sports arenas of similar vintage have been demolished, off the top of my head I can think of Denver, Philadelphia, Indianapolis, Houston and Boston as cities that have said goodbye to (sometimes) beloved arenas - Boston especially. If these cities could not justify a secondary use for their arenas, I am not sure Portland can. Still, I do wish there were a way to save it.
What I wonder, as an economist, is if there is such a deep seeded attachment to the building among the general population of Portland. I suspect not, which destroys any public good argument for preserving the building. But I could be wrong. What do you think?

1 comment:

The unexamined life is not worth living. said...

I agree that there's some doubt as to the Big Glass Box's architectural merit, but I too have emotion ties to it. I remember getting to skate through the concourse, I attended model presidential nominating convention there when I was in high school. I've seen Michael Moore, Ralph Nader, and Barack Obama all speak there. Maybe it makes more sense to have a facility without a major tenant - can you imagine two large scale events happening at the same time and trying to get in and out of there? A sold out Blazer game alone causes nightmares in traffic, parking, and transit strain. Keeping the Colosseum with minor events might make more sense.