By Mike Russo September 10, 2003
Guest Viewpoint: UO arena project too big for Howe Field site. Copyright Eugene Register Guard
By Mike Russo
Howe Field, next to McArthur Court on the south edge of campus, has been named by a consultant as a possible site for the University of Oregon's new basketball and events arena. Like several other potential sites, Howe Field is near students and is readily available.
But closer examination of the Howe Field proposal reveals fatal flaws. The arena and associated parking facilities would have profoundly negative effects on the surrounding neighborhood and, compared to alternative sites, on fans, students and other key constituencies.
If you think it's frustrating to get in and out of Autzen Stadium on game day, imagine dealing with a new Howe Field arena on a rainy night. Based on the consultant's report, about 4,000 additional fans would drive to games at the new arena; assuming two fans per car, that's 2,000 more cars. According to Gary McNeel, a senior transportation analyst for the city of Eugene, surrounding streets would be "seriously inundated with traffic."
The consultant's report has little to say about this looming fiasco, other than empty statements calling for "careful and skillful global planning and strategy."
But no amount of planning and strategy could add lanes to surrounding streets or flatten the crushing peak of traffic, especially after games. Fans who have complained for years about hellish traffic jams at Mac Court would be justly upset to see that the new stadium built next door has made the problem even worse. All of the other leading sites considered by the consultant have far better fan access than Howe Field.
The proposed site would entail other severe problems. The track program would suffer from an ugly three-story garage (one of several new multistory parking structures that would be required in the area) directly south of Hayward Field, supplanting its hammer throw field and practice track and reducing its desirability as a site for major track and field events. Other student facilities and intramural fields would have to be eliminated or relocated, too, besides Howe Field itself.
This would violate the university's own Long Range Campus Plan, which rightly declares that the fields are "essential university resources to be managed in a way that maximizes their benefit to the university community as a whole, and they ought not to be considered as available building sites simply because they are open."
Amazingly, the university's consultant suggests that even the six-court indoor tennis center, built just in 2000, may need to be razed!
Another big loser from the Howe Field site would be the Lane Transit District. LTD's Andy Vobora estimates that games at the new arena would require four times as many buses as at Mac Court - a logistical nightmare. Moreover, the thousands of new parking spaces at the arena could sap LTD's weekday ridership, in complete disregard of Eugene-Springfield planning documents, virtually all of which call for weekday commuting to shift toward buses and away from cars.
Finally, the arena and its traffic would severely disrupt life in the South University neighborhood. Adding 2,000 parking spaces for the arena would be a massive increase over the campus' current 3,200 spaces, and that increase would be borne mainly on this one neighborhood's back.
The peace and quiet that we now treasure in our historic, beautiful and convivial neighborhood would be destroyed. Thousands of new car trips would flood us regularly - and not just during games or other events, because the new parking structures would be used every weekday by commuters. (Unfortunately, most students and others who now park in the neighborhood would not use the new facilities because it would cost them money. And those who did would simply be replaced on our streets by others who are now taking the bus.)
Moreover, the arena itself would visually overwhelm the area: It would hold 15,000 fans, some 6,000 more than Mac Court. In sheer volume, the new 15,000 seat facility would actually be closer in size to Portland's Rose Garden than Mac Court, due to planned space for fan amenities, luxury boxes and so on.
South University area residents understand that we coexist with a large institution, and that some changes may have to occur over time. But this massive project is much too much to force onto our neighborhood with one disastrous decision.
The new arena project is simply too big for the Howe Field location. Is the UO really willing to take the time needed to determine the best site for this facility, as President Dave Frohnmayer has said it is? If so, it must come to realize that Howe Field would be a terribly wrong choice.
Copyright 2003 The Register-Guard unless labeled as being from the Associated Press (AP), in which case Copyright 2003 Associated Press