Pavilion on the Park Blocks

The stained brick of the Stott Center in the south Park Blocks is preparing to metamorphose into the Viking Pavilion—a $40 million educational, athletic and civic venue.

The Pavilion was approved in 2013, but the funding from the state revenue bonds won’t be available until next spring, making the ground-breaking date most likely either late 2015 or early 2016.

Conceptually, the plan is to relocate the tennis courts on the roof of the Stott Center and use that emptied space as the foundation for the event center. This means that the event center will be elevated—a smart, space-saving move for an already semi-congested campus. As currently advertised, the building will be glassy, spacious and light-filled, standing in contrast to the Oxford-esque brick of the rest of the Park Blocks.

“There will be arena-style seating up to 5,000 people, space that can be configured for events as well as for study use for students for nonevent activities,” said Torre Chisholm, the director of athletics. “Then we basically renovate some interior spaces in the building to create new entries, student lounge, new academic center. And then we also, as part of the project, have to do deferred maintenance throughout the entire Stott Center facility.”

This deferred maintenance was actually the initial impetus for renovation. The Stott Center, despite its limited classroom space, is one of the largest buildings on campus. Due to the age of the building, the renovation of the Stott Center had been necessarily high on PSU’s priority list; deferred maintenance was estimated to be $12–13 million.

“We said, ‘If we’re going to spend that, let’s actually do something useful with the space,’” Chisholm said. In addition, every dollar PSU receives from the state, it has to match one- to-one. This made the Pavilion a stronger option than other
possible projects.

The project has been in the works since 2012, but it wasn’t until June 2013, when PSU received $24 million in state bonds —$20 million in state-backed bonds, $2 million in seismic bonds (which will help with deferred maintenance), and an anticipated $2 million in revenue from bonds—that the project began to crystallize. This project, along with the renovation of the School of Business, is part of a larger $743.5 million investment by the Oregon legislature in construction and capital projects for Oregon universities and community colleges. These investments are central to the legislature’s hopes of achieving their 40-40-20 goal, which states that by 2025 all adult Oregonians will have a high school diploma or equivalent, 40 percent will have an associates or other certificate, and 40 percent will have a bachelor’s degree.

In addition to state bonds, PSU has raised $13 million of the $20 million needed (to match the state bonds), including a $5 million gift from an anonymous donor, and $1 million from OHSU. No tuition money will be spent on the Pavilion.
The Pavilion, besides adding space for PSU students to study, lounge or simply get out of the rain, will also serve as a midsized venue in downtown Portland for events outside of the athletic world. PSU expects to host more than 140 public events a year, including top name musical acts and academic speakers.

“We targeted 5,000 seats for a particular reason. You have the Rose Garden [Moda Center] which captures all the big events at 20,000, you have the [Veterans Memorial] Coliseum which is at 12,000…in terms of downtown, you drop all the way down to [Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall] and [the Keller Auditorium] which are both about 2,000 to 2,200 seats,”
Chisholm said.

“We studied what having a midrange venue will do, what sort of events we can get. There were a lot of acts that skip Portland. I came here from UC Irvine, which had a 5,000-seat venue, very similar. We got a lot of up and coming acts.
Kelly Clarkson, Kanye West…it was amazing. The Dalai Lama, as well as three different presidents spoke there,”
Chisholm said.

Athletics are actually a relatively minor part of the plans for Viking Pavilion. Currently, PSU expects to host at least 140 events a year, only 40 of which will be PSU athletic contests. Still, the improvement to PSU sports will hardly be negligible. The Viking Pavilion would help PSU’s chances of landing top-notch players by offering an excellent place to play and by increasing attendance by over 300 percent, from 1,775 to as much as 5,500.

“The Pavilion would give us a recruiting advantage with prospective student-athletes, in particular local student-athletes. It would be a great venue for anyone to play their four-year college career,” said men’s basketball coach Tyler Geving.

“Portland State offers student-athletes a great education in an amazing city,” said Sherri Murrell, the women’s basketball head coach. “What has been missing for them and our fans is a first class facility to compete in.”

Building a new arena, however, does not necessarily equate to an increase in attendance or an increase in school spirit. PSU, having a less traditional campus than, say, University of Oregon or Oregon State, has a different athletic culture.

“As we continue to create more beds on campus or in the proximity of campus, we need to create more student life activity. It creates a fun, active, attractive venue. It makes it a destination venue. The other thing, which is one of my favorite things about this [architectural] concept, is this building’s probably about 90 feet tall. A student could be over in Broadway [Housing Building], and they can look out their window and they’re gonna be able to see this thing is lit up. It just creates a totally different dynamic,” Chisholm said.

In the end, this project is a central piece to a broader infrastructural plan. The PSU campus district is set to transform in the next decade. A new transit hub (the Milwaukie MAX line) will be erected, enrollment is expected to reach 50,000 by 2025, and students living on or near campus (a number that already accounts for nearly a quarter of PSU students) will increase accordingly. PSU is aiming—and has been for a while—to become a modern standard of urban education. Part of that means redefining PSU’s look and erasing catchphrases like “commuter school.” In PSU and Chisholm’s view, that means embracing at once a possibly burgeoning sports culture and an urban civic and educational venue.

This is a step toward the future of PSU, a future that is rapidly approaching.