Arena project raises concern in community

University president Dave Frohnmayer sent a letter on Tuesday to residents of the neighborhood where the basketball arena is set to be built in an attempt to temper concerns that spectators will flood their streets with parked cars and litter their sidewalks with trash.

The letter mentions that there will be a buffer of University property between the neighborhood and the arena, the facility won’t have a “back door” facing the neighborhood and that there will be litter crews that will clean up after each game.

The letter was also personally handed out by Frohnmayer at a community event Tuesday night that featured state Sens. Bill Morrisette and Floyd Prozanski, as well as state Reps. Paul Holvey and Phil Barnhart. The meeting, which was meant for community members to express their concerns about anything applicable to their district, drew about three dozen people. Less than a handful brought up the basketball arena, and all of them said they were concerned that there won’t be adequate parking for the estimated 12,500-seat arena.

The letter is a promising sign that the University administration is responding to the concerns of the community, Barnhart said, adding that he questioned Frohnmayer during a phone conversation less than a week ago, and already Frohnmayer has responded.

But Barnhart’s compliment came after he gave a pointed account of his several concerns about the project. “I’m waiting frankly on the parking plan,” he said. “I want to see a parking plan they can demonstrate could actually work without taking up every spot in the neighborhood.”

The Fairmount Neighborhood Association, which includes the land where the arena is to be built, is growing louder in voicing their concerns about how the project will affect the historic neighborhood. Several of residents attended Tuesday’s meeting.

“What does it do to a long established historic neighborhood when you plunk down an arena of that size?” said Sue Jakabosky, co-chair of the Fairmount Neighborhood Association, during an interview with the Emerald.

Morrisette was more optimistic about the proposed arena. He said that despite how private consulting firm CSL International gave more promising revenue projections than did a faculty subcommittee and the Legislative Fiscal Office, he’s confident the project will earn enough money to pay back the $200 million debt the University hopes to take out from the Oregon Legislature during its February session.

The athletic department’s ability to book other events, such as concerts and family shows, will be crucial to the success of the project, Morrisette said. Basketball fans are too “fickle,” evidenced by the low turn out at basketball games at Oregon State University, he said.

After one community member criticized the University for building a “palace to watch people throw a ball around” while other state programs go underfunded, Frohnmayer gave a passionate response, saying “if anyone sat in my position or an equivalent one, he or she would want McArthur Court to be replaced as early as possible” for efficiency, safety and the longevity of the athletic department.

“More pairs of eyes and more financial expertise have been dedicated to looking at the upside, downside and the sideways,” than any other project he’s been a part of, he said.

With a possible recession in 2008, Frohnmayer also said pumping hundreds of millions into construction costs is exactly what the economy needs.

Even still, Frohnmayer’s assurances weren’t enough to convince Lee Kersh, who has lived in the neighborhood since the late 1980s. He said the arena will cause traffic, trash and criminal problems that will degrade the neighborhood and lower the value of its property. He said he might consider moving from the neighborhood if the arena isn’t built in another location.

“I don’t want to see my neighborhood go down that path,” he said.

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