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JumpTown gets off the ground

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Sunday, November 22, 2009
J.E. Isaac, senior VP of business affairs for the Blazers, says the Jumptown plan will need substantial public investment.

PORTLAND When Paul Allen invested a quarter of a billion dollars in the Rose Garden 15 years ago, he received something large in return: development rights to the 35-acre neighborhood around the stadium. But while Allen and the Blazers have taken good care of their franchise, they have done little to improve the Rose Quarter, which is viewed widely as a missed opportunity. That could change big-time over the next few years.

With Allen's development rights due to expire in November 2010, the Blazers have launched a campaign to redevelop the quarter into "JumpTown," a vibrant and super-green entertainment center. They've hired local architect Rick Potestio and partnered with Nike and the Baltimore-based Cordish Companies to draw up plans involving restaurants, brew pubs, public art, music clubs, a 250-room hotel and an "interactive center" telling the story of how Nike grew from an idea into a $20 billion sports empire. That would be phase one. Phase two would involve waterfront offices and housing — once the real estate markets rebound.

"We're hoping this will be a catalytic project," says J.E. Isaac, senior vice president of business affairs for the Blazers. "If it's done right, it will stimulate a lot of development."

But it won't get done for free. The plan will require a "substantial public investment," Isaac says.

At the center of the property lies the Memorial Coliseum, which is owned by the City of Portland. Mayor Sam Adams has assembled a 32-member stakeholder committee to consider how best to modernize the coliseum, which draws about 450,000 visitors per year but needs upgrading. Early recommendations for the building range from an indoor Pike Place-style public market to a tribal casino with a hotel. Expect a lengthy public process.

Isaac says the Blazers intend to "lead by listening." But there is little doubt who has the inside track in this race. Blazers president Larry Miller, who worked with Nike for 10 years before joining the franchise, says one of his first conversations with Allen focused on redevelopment strategies. Miller's Nike connections helped boost plans for the Nike building, and Miller also initiated the relationship with Cordish, a huge company that has led similar redevelopments in Kansas City, Houston and Louisville.

It remains to be seen how eagerly Portlanders will embrace an out-of-state developer. But a local option may not exist. The recession has been hard on Oregon's big-picture visionaries, several of whom are still struggling to stem the bleeding on the South Waterfront project. Asked what Cordish offers that local firms lack, Isaac gets straight to the point: "Expertise — and money." 

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