The Rose City Rollers Need to Find a New Arena to Survive

Portland's beloved roller derby league probably has to move out of Oaks Park. The question is: where to?

By Eleanor Van Buren November 2, 2017

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The Rose City Rollers, our local women’s flat track roller derby squad currently shacking up at Oak Parks, needs a new venue. Stat.

A new Fire Marshal rule effective July 1, 2018 threatens to prevent the nonprofit from operating its bouts at its current building, which has never been zoned for assembly.

In order for the bouts to continue, the league will need to install a sprinkler system or have the building zoned for assembly, explains Kim Stegeman (a.k.a Rocket Mean), the executive director for the world’s largest roller derby league. Both options are challenging.

For one, there is no water main running to the site, and installing it would include tearing up the parking lot on the park’s private property—all before the roughly $200,000 sprinkler system could even enter the picture. The latter option, which Stegeman calls a "pie in the sky," would require seismic upgrades and retrofitting the building with a firewall. 

Both are big ask for any property owner, and quite possibly an unrealistic one.

“Oaks Park isn’t going to put the money into that building,” says Stegeman. “They just bought themselves a $3 million roller coaster, so I understand their perspective.”

Before the teams can roll out of there, the league needs to decide where to go. Ideally, the new venue would be upwards of 25,000 square feet, contain two tracks and locker rooms, and have running water.

Aside from physical space, location is an important consideration. A recent all-member league meeting reached consensus that the arena would have to be on the east side, where access to a MAX line would connect its 500 skaters, 800 volunteers, and thousands of fans to public transportation.

One silver lining: the Rollers have hit a ceiling in the capacity imposed by the current venue. A new venue could be a chance to expand the fan base.

“Typically, about 80 percent of the Rose City Rollers bouts sell out," Stegeman says. "If that’s the number that’s currently selling out, and that’s selling 500 tickets, that tells me that we probably have the ability to sell closer to 700 tickets on a regular basis."

“We have received big booms [of interest] in the 7- to 12-year-old skaters,” she adds. “That has really helped grow our audiences recently.”

This weekend, the Wheels of Justice—the RCR’s all-star team—head to the women’s flat track roller derby world championships in Philadelphia to compete for a third consecutive title. Looking to the success of reigning National Women’s Soccer League champions, the Portland Thorns, Stegeman has hope they'll find a new space and says she believes in the potential to grow roller derby.

“We got you here," she says. "Now we’re going to make you love this game and want to come back.”

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