PORTLAND — Once deserving of being called the Glass Palace, Portland’s Veterans Memorial Coliseum is now more old barn than marquee venue.
On Sunday, the Portland Winterhawks will experience the first step in the rejuvenation of the palace. Their game against the Tri-City Americans will be the first on a new, larger ice rink.
The new ice surface is the first phase in a proposed $31.5-million renovation that would modernize a building that opened in 1960.
The NHL dimensions make the rink 200 feet long and 85 feet wide. The old dimensions at the Memorial Coliseum were 185 feet by 80 feet. All other Western Hockey League rinks are NHL dimensions.
Winterhawks general manager and head coach Mike Johnston said a modernized ice plant was badly needed if the Coliseum was going to continue as a viable home for his team.
“Hopefully, we’ll have more consistent ice (quality),” he said.
The Winterhawks play home games at the Rose Garden and in the Coliseum. Johnston is glad that the new rink matches the NHL dimensions of the rink in the Rose Garden. But he said the 15-foot difference between the blue lines at the Rose Garden and the old rink at the Coliseum didn’t impact the way his team approached the game.
“We don’t spend a lot of time in the neutral zone, so it really doesn’t impact us,” Johnston said.
The real impact for the players, Johnston said, is the new NHL-approved glass and boards that surround the ice. The new boards are designed to lessen the concussion risk for players. The fans win, too. The new system — installed in both the Coliseum and in the Rose Garden — is see-through all the way around.
But the fan experience will drastically improve next season — as long as Portland’s City Council approves the proposed $31.5-million renovation.
Winterhawks president Doug Piper, who has been at work on the project for more than two years, said he is optimistic the full project will be approved in early November.
The City of Portland paid for the new ice plant and for a new freight elevator in this initial phase of improvements to the Coliseum.
The larger project — for which Winterhawks owner Bill Gallacher has pledged $10 million — includes wider seats in the arena, remodeled restrooms and concession stands and upgraded lighting.
The seating capacity will drop from more than 10,000 for hockey to 8,200 as the seats expand from 19 inches wide to 22 inches wide.
If approved this fall, Piper said the plan would be to do much of the work — including the new seats — next summer.