Friday, August 24, 2012


In 1964, Portland was buzzing with vision dreams of Major League Baseball, NFL football and hosting the 1972 Olympics. It was a fever that took the Rose City to a zenith on May 15, 1964. On this day, Multnomah County voters determined (or doomed) the future of Portland sports for the next 50 years.

They voted down the Delta Dome.

The Delta Dome was an ambitious plan for an enclosed 80,000 seat domed stadium which would have been completed in 1967. It was to be located in Delta Park (near today's Expo Center). The stadium borders were Marine Drive West, I-5 and N Force Rd. An additional area for parking would have been adjacent to the stadium (117 acres for the parking of 17,000 cars and 200 buses). The stadium would have risen over 300 feet and taken the equivalent of 8 city blocks. The initial structure would have seated 46,730 for football games. Architectural provisions would have made it possible to eventually seat 80,000. Cost was estimated at $40 million. The complex would have put Portland in a position to bid on the '72 Olympics and add MLB and NFL football by 1970. It has been suggested that building the dome would have impacted construction on 2 freeways: I-5 (lane expansion to 4 lanes each direction) and I-205 (this would have accelerated freeway construction by 10 or more years). Columbia river crossings may have been impacted and improved also. At the time of completion, it would have been the world's largest domed arena. There is a strong possibility that the dome would have impaired Seattle's ability to capture a MLB team in 1977 and a NFL team in 1976 as Portland teams would already be in place in the Pacific NW.

The 1960's: Decade of Stadiums and Expansion

In 1964, U.S. cities from Atlanta to Anaheim were looking to become big time players in the world of major league sports. Both the American Football League and the National Football League were undergoing expansion. Major League Baseball was looking for new locations for teams. In May of 1964, fifteen different cities were celebrating or building new stadiums:

Atlanta Fulton County Stadium (57,000/$18 million) had broken ground.
Oakland Alameda County Coliseum (48,500/$25.5 million) under construction.
Houston Astrodome (52,797) nearing completion.
Dallas/Irving Texas Stadium $16 million bond approved.
St Louis Busch Memorial Stadium (52,000/$23 million) stadium approved.
Pittsburgh Three Rivers (50,000/$24million) approved
San Diego Murphy Stadium (50,000/$27million)
Boston Schaefer (60,000/$50million)
Philadelphia Veterans (60,000/$23million)
Anaheim (50,000/$25million) under consideration
Seattle $25mil bond for domed stadium under consideration (King Dome)
NY City Shea Stadium(63,000/$28million) just completed
Los Angeles Dodger Stadium just completed
Washington DC RFK $23mil stadium completed 1961
San Francisco Candlestick Park (42,000 $22mil) completed 1960

The Delta Dome was promoted by a civic group called the Metropolitan Future Unlimited Inc. The president of MFU was Paul B McKee. He was also Chairman of the Board for Pacific Power and Light. The MFU had many strong points, but had one perfect thing...............timing. It was more like a "perfect storm". The dome would be located right between Vancouver and Portland (2 population centers). Delta Park had over 1200 acres of raw land (hard to come by, even in 1964). There was a new freeway (I-5) leading right to it. The interstate bridge practically put Washington residents into the dome parking lot. Professional sports teams were looking for expansion slots on the west coast. The NFL, AFL and MLB were all in a growth phase and there were no teams in the pacific northwest. The city of Portland and Multnomah County were in excellent financial shape with little money owed. They could take on the financial debt service for the dome. The timing was beautiful.

The Delta Park Recreation Commission
The Commission was created on May 20, 1963 by Joint Resolution of the Multnomah County Commission and the Portland City Council. It consisted of seven appointed members. It held its first formal meeting June 5, 1963. Its purpose was to investigate the development of a projected 60,000 seat domed sports stadium in the Delta Park Area. A contractor, Ebasco Services, was hired to prepare studies on soils engineering, stadium planning and feasibility, site development and creation of a stadium model.

On March 12, 1964, a $25million bond issue for the building of the the stadium was placed on the ballot for May 15, 1964.  It did not pass.
After the bond measure was defeated, the Board of County Commissioners initially rejected a suggestion to revisit the bond measure. However, supporters of the dome succeeding in getting one last shot at voter determination and placed a 2nd ballot measure for the dome on Nov 3, 1964. After this failed, the dome was dead.

Delta Dome opposition was light at first, but began to grow as the ballot measures neared. Major concerns were the raising of county taxes, increased traffic bottlenecks and previous flooding of this area (see the Vanport flood of 1948). A study done estimated that the average taxpayer would have their taxes raised by $6.18/year to finance the dome project.

A distinctive feature of the Delta Dome would have been it's gleaming white dome 300 feet high and 1000 feet across according to architect John Merrill, Jr.

Delta Dome Time Line

1948 Flood wipes out city of Vanport
1950 City acquires land for new recreation area park
1955 Planning Commission studies Vanport area for worlds fair/stadium
1960 American Football League forms
1961 MLB/American League openly seeks expansion on west coast
1961 City Planning Commission studies future locations for sports stadium
1962 Metropolitan Future Unlimited Committee formed
1962 Vanport Recreational Park unveiled to public
1963 Delta Park Recreation Commission created
1963 Corps of Engineers recommends against delta park stadium because of flooding
1963 Proposal to re-name Delta Park "Kennedy Park" after late JFK
1964 Delta Dome proposed to city at Portland University Luncheon
1964 Memorial Coliseum endorses Delta Dome
1964 On May 15, voters vote down ballot measure for approval of Dome
1964 Multnomah County official vote count for Dome: 90941 yes votes, 99599 no votes.
1964 On Nov 3, voters again vote down Dome ballot measure for 2nd and last time.
1964 Multnomah County official vote count for Dome: 75613 yes votes, 91580 no votes.
1965 Houston Astrodome opens
1976 Seattle King dome completed
1976 Seattle Seahawks expansion season
1977 Seattle Mariners expansion season