The Portland City Council considered a $5 million ticket tax waiver a fair exchange for the privately funded expansion of Providence Park. But some neighborhood representatives wonder if the city is giving up something even more valuable: public space.
The proposed $50 million covered grandstand along Southwest 18th Avenue overwhelms—in the words of several neighborhood activists—the existing stadium, the sidewalk and the general vicinity. The addition was shown as 103 feet tall in initial drawings and has since been trimmed to 93 feet. The existing stadium is about 77 feet tall, according to city records.
Peregrine Sports LLC, owners of the Timbers and Thorns soccer teams, is underwriting the $50 million addition to the city-owned stadium.
The addition would extend over the sidewalk east of the stadium, creating an 11.5-foot wide arcade that either enhances the pedestrian experience or converts the public right of way into private space—perhaps both at once—depending on one’s point of view.
Even though the sidewalk would be wider than it is now, skeptics doubt it will be sufficient for the additional 4,000 fans pouring from the new grandstand, which increases the park’s seating capacity to 25,000.
Furthermore, some see it as turning the public sidewalk into a place that feels like a part of the stadium.
Even 18th Avenue might be narrowed and the parking lane removed to transfer every possible inch to the new grandstand.
“There is no generosity to the public spaces,” said Steve Pinger, a member of the Northwest District Association Planning Committee.
Building above a sidewalk is a big deal in Portland. Doing so requires a Major Encroachment in the Public Right of Way Review, involving stringent standards, including approval by the City Council.
The initial approval step is with the Portland Design Commission.
“The Design Commission noted that the bar is high … to demonstrate the public benefit provided by the encroachment,” wrote Tim Heron, senior planner for the Bureau of Development Services. “While the economic benefit is clear to the organization and surrounding businesses, it will be important to show the public benefit of this major encroachment to the public that does not pay to attend events at Providence Park.”
At a design advice hearing before the commission in May, “commissioners agreed that the addition of 4,000 new seats and patrons exiting the facility after a game could create a safety hazard given the proposed 10-foot-wide corridor,” Heron wrote.
(Plans were amended to provide 18 more inches of width after receiving the commission’s advice.)
“Since [that] meeting, the majority of commission agreed that the minimum clear width of the arcade—at least 12 feet in width was suggested—should not be determined until a crowd movement analysis is done. The balance of any necessary width not attainable from the sidewalk expansion into Southwest 18th Avenue shall be taken from inside the property line,” he continued.
While the Design Commission may be looking at the ground in its calculations, Pinger and others on the NWDA Planning Committee have their sights set higher. They imagine a structure towering over the 91-year-old stadium, designed by famed architect A.E. Doyle, while blocking views and sunlight.
“This is a big reduction in light and air for the public,” said Michael Harrison, a Northwest District resident and a former senior planner for the city.
Pinger suggested lowering the grandstand by one level, eliminating “the most expensive seats in the stadium,” and moving the entire structure westward, thereby staying out of the right of way and permitting a smaller roof.
But Chelsea Grassinger of Allied Works Architecture, the project designer, said reconfiguring the public right of way is central to the proposal.
“The design optimizes the experience for the spectator but also activates the connection between the stadium and the neighborhood through the arcade design,” Grassinger wrote in an email to the Examiner.
“Additionally, the arcade provides sidewalk weather protection and increases the sidewalk open space, improving the movement of pedestrians and, given its generous height, maintains light, air and vistas.”
The Portland Design Commission generally likes the arcade.
“The commission agreed that the height of the arcade and the overall design of the cable-tension structure would make for a positive arcade experience,” wrote Heron.
“The arcade itself is a great public benefit,” he added, while noting further development along the street, perhaps vendors operating on non-game days, “would support the street life of Southwest 18th Avenue.”
Grassinger told Northwest neighbors that moving the structure to the west would necessitate demolishing restrooms built six years ago.
The rationales didn’t satisfy John Bradley, chair of the NWDA Planning Committee, who told her he needed “better reasons as to why you can’t push the whole building west.”
Grassinger emphasizes the transparency of the largely glass and steel grandstand and roof. That may be a nod to promises made when the stadium was reconfigured for the Timbers in 2011 that public views into the stadium from 18th Avenue would be retained.
While pedestrians can still see into the stadium, the sightlines do not include the field of play as they did before. The current design attempts only to protect existing views.
That isn’t good enough for some neighbors. Bill Welch of the NWDA Planning Committee suggested large monitors outside the stadium might “fulfill the commitment you made to have access to the stadium.”
The Goose Hollow Foothills League, the neighborhood association surrounding the stadium, is also big on transparency.
“The [latest] version proposed creates a walling off where there are currently open sightlines that contribute much to the neighborhood,” stated a motion passed by GHFL last month. “By adding glazing, this would allow for more open sightlines (as required in the good neighbor agreement).”
Parking issues are never far away when enlarging a major stadium having no designated parking facility. The Timbers organization has been praised as a national model for minimizing its parking impact on the surrounding neighborhoods. A Stadium Oversight Committee that includes neighborhood representatives has been working with the city and stadium operator to further incentivize use of transit, downtown garages and other alternatives to parking on adjacent streets.
One option under discussion is the addition of three MAX trains at the ready to whisk fans away in the 20 minutes after games end.
Ron Walters, a member of the oversight committee, said the goal is to reduce the neighborhood impact of parking below present conditions, and he believes that is possible.
Construction could begin in November and continue for about 12 months.