Portland’s beloved junior hockey team, the Winterhawks, threatened to relocate or cease operations without a minimum wage exemption for their players. House Bill 4093, calling for just that, was recently denied by the Oregon State Senate in unceremonious fashion. Meanwhile, Seattle is a few years away from getting an NHL team in a renovated KeyArena, and their NHL team will need a nearby minor league (AHL) affiliate. Portland could kill two birds with one stone by attracting Seattle’s AHL affiliate: fill the potential void left by the Winterhawks’ anticipated departure, and get the Veterans Memorial Coliseum the modernizing it needs.
Private investors saw the potential for pro hockey in Seattle, and the same group could be incentivized to do the same in Portland. The Winterhawks consistently have the highest attendance of any American junior hockey team, drawing crowds that would be considered successful in the AHL. Ticket prices would not increase much, if at all, but the level of play would be noticeably higher, appealing to more spectators. Beyond the likelihood of financial success in Portland, it would attract the fans from Portland to follow the parent club in Seattle.
How can we get Oak View Group, the conglomerate behind the KeyArena renovation, to do the same here? Tax breaks on the arena’s revenue (rather than subsidies like the Moda Center received) were all they required in Seattle to commit $600 million to the building, on top of the $650 expansion fee for the team. Meanwhile, estimates to modernize the Coliseum ranges from $30-60 million, paling in comparison. Offering the same breaks is not only reasonable, but a good deal for the city of Portland. It would save the city the upwards of six figures it loses every year on keeping the building in operation. Our civic leaders should explore this option to revitalize a building on the National Register of Historic Places using private investment.
Between the lack of a press box and the outdated seats, restrooms, concourse, plumbing, etc., it is clear the Coliseum needs work. The juxtaposition between the Moda Center next door and the Coliseum is striking; modernizing the latter would make the Rose Quarter a truly world-class entertainment district. Based on the ongoing construction of Portland State University’s Viking Pavilion, the political will to update sports venues appears to be in place in Portland. The building cost $52 million to build on a campus with a $73 million endowment, and required nearly $25 million in state bonds. In comparison, this makes the Coliseum update seem even more like a no-brainer.
It’s entirely possible there are already gears in motion to bring pro hockey to Portland; Seattle had a wildly successful season ticket drive a few weeks ago that suggests there is far more demand in the region than anyone expected. It’s also entirely possible the Winterhawks will either find a way to get the bill passed, or are bluffing about no longer operating in Portland. We should still consider incentivizing the remodel of the Coliseum given the opportunity. Pro hockey is finally coming (back) to the American Northwest; hopefully Portland doesn’t get left behind.
(cover photo from Wikimedia Commons)