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UO unveils a vision for the 21st century.

Byline: Ron Bellamy / The Register-Guard

Toward the end of a strangely somber news conference Thursday, with discussions about mega-money and architects and timelines and construction sites, University of Oregon vice president Dan Williams paused to reflect on the significance of a moment.

The Ducks are building a new basketball arena. It will be the place your grandkids take their grandkids, a home for the 21st century.

Sure, final approval must come from UO president Dave Frohnmayer, probably by mid-summer, because, as Williams noted wryly, "he'll live with the consequences." But Oregon believes that the new building will happen. The Ducks have talked about the project for years, and now they have this:

A study done, not simply in the works. Possible sites, with a decision on that roughly six months away, a blink of an eye in the overall history of this vision. An architectural firm. A planning consultant. A goal to begin construction in the summer of 2004.

A belief that the money can be raised, and a will to get this done, even as the Ducks will always cherish McArthur Court, home to Oregon basketball for 77 years.

"Those of you who have been in this community a long time, like I have, probably never thought the day would come," Williams mused. "But it's here, and we're going to take advantage of it."

The announcement is a measure of Oregon's growth as an athletic department, and of the growth of the Oregon men's basketball program. It's a testament to a coach and athletes who have filled McArthur Court beyond capacity.

The expansion of Autzen Stadium wouldn't have happened without the generosity of Phil Knight as principal donor but it also wouldn't have happened without Mike Bellotti and Joey Harrington and, if you want to trace the roots back further, without Rich Brooks, Bill Musgrave and Kenny Wheaton.

The construction of a new basketball arena should lead to further success for the Oregon program, in recruiting and thus on the court, and to additional revenues for the athletic department.

But Oregon wouldn't be here without three NCAA Tournament appearances in four years, without coach Ernie Kent - who has worked for this moment with more diplomacy but no less commitment than his predecessor, Jerry Green - and without the Lukes.

Thursday's announcement was just a beginning, but there have been many steps, false-starts, backtracks, digressions, to get this far.

There are some compelling options for sites. Once upon a time, it seemed that Oregon was looking only near Autzen Stadium. That's still an option, but there are some intriguing other possibilities, too; sites that haven't been part of past public discussions - Williams Bakery; the old Coca-Cola bottling plant site; Howe Field.

There's also property near the planned new federal courthouse, though you wonder about a goal of breaking ground next year given all the fingers that would be in that pie.

"It depends on how anxious the city is to make that happen," Williams said. Some thoughts:

The site should be within the logical footprint of the University of Oregon. That, to me, eliminates the two Glenwood sites on Franklin Boulevard. This should be a UO arena, on campus or in walking distance or, as a fallback, by Autzen.

It should be, as Oregon seems bent on making it, the best basketball arena that Oregon can build, not a bland "multi-purpose facility." Oregon is committed to recreating some of the passion and intensity of Mac Court - the steepness, the balconies - and that was a factor in the choice of architect, Dallas-based HKS.

Athletics director Bill Moos said UO students will be a big part of the new building; they'll have more seats on the floor in a new arena than now. Student accessibility is a vital factor in site selection, too.

In the vision outlined Thursday, a new arena could be occupied in the fall of 2006, the first tip-off when Jordan Kent and point guard Aaron Brooks would be UO seniors.
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Title Annotation:Columns
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Article Type:Column
Geographic Code:1U9OR
Date:Apr 18, 2003
Words:661
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