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How Far Outside the Box Can We Think for a New Sports Arena?

March 17th, 2005 by Admi

by Don Kahle

The University of Oregon needs a partner to complete their arena on the scale envisioned by its primary donors. Eugene had its chance and dropped the ball, so the school must look to see whos open before they put the project back in play. But if we hope to see Aaron Brooks playing on that new hardwood in 2006, time is running out.

Time to consider a partner smaller than Eugene and a location that will suit both sides equally, without disrupting the states fragile economic realities. A smaller partner with big ideas wont haggle over minor points, wont fool itself into believing it can do better, wont insist on equal billing when the deal is done.

Building a project of this scale in a town with fewer people than Eugene offers the promise of cheap land, eager labor, and roads that wont snarl every week at game time.

Oregon can still have its head-turning athletic facility, and can make it happen on time if they approach a more eager partner in a less congested town. And the state will applaud the innovation, leadership, and courage of such a choice.

Build the arena in Harrisburg and share it with the Beavers.

Surely Oregon State University can tap its donors for $50 million to get a piece of the best college basketball arena in the nation. If the LA Lakers and the LA Clippers can share the Staples Center for 82 games a year, sharing a facility for a college schedule should be a snap.

What better way to declare our position on the athletics arms race than to share our arms with our Civil War foe? Besides we all enjoy hating the haughty Huskies more than berating the boring Beavers anyway. (Say that three times fast.)

Theres plenty of easy building sites available in Harrisburg. A project of this scale seldom comes calling to towns as small as Harrisburg, unless its for a prison, so the workforce will ensure that the project is eagerly embraced and fast-tracked through the building process. Neighbors wont complain theyll just say moo.

The commute to Harrisburg from Eugene is less than 20 miles, 25 from Corvallis, a little more from Albany, and minutes from I-5 for the rest of the state. Phil Knight and Dave Frohnmayer will be bringing entertainment and excitement to a million Oregonians who dont benefit from Shakespeares draw in the south or the many offerings from Portland in the north.

Planting a $200 million arena in the middle of the grass seed farmers might even start to heal the deep divide between rural and urban Oregonians. Everyone in the center of the state will have two teams to call their own. Let the best team win. Only the Portland Trailblazers have anything to lose in this scenario. They had their chance to be the states team and lost it.

Dont believe this idea is as far-fetched as you think.

A staffer for one of our states delegation in Washington, D.C. once told me in an unguarded moment that Eugene fails at thinking big enough to attract attention on Capitol Hill.

Her scolding went something like this: You ask for a million or two for Bus Rapid Transit so you can be better connected to Springfield, when its clear that the two towns have no desire or need to be connected. If instead you asked for money to build light rail between Eugene and Corvallis, imagine the funding we could attract to create a corridor for Edutopia. Professors could seek joint appointments. Administrators could meet colleagues with only an hours notice. Research moneys could be pursued and spent jointly. It would put this area on the map for what really is its strongest feature. Lots of education, and beautiful open spaces in between.

Its true. Oregon may love dreamers, but theres also a time to wake up and smell the coffee. The opportunities before us are larger than we have imagined.

University President Frohnmayer speaks occasionally about the new tribalism and how it threatens society with its greed and small-mindedness. Lets not just speak against the new tribalism. Lets stand against it. We might just get a world-class sports facility for our state in the process.

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Don Kahle (dk@comic-news.com) is a past president of the City Club of Eugene and publisher of magazine.

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