Towson U's arena plans unwelcome

The Baltimore Sun

When Towson University officials unveil plans for a new campus arena at a community meeting tomorrow, they are likely to find many residents dismayed by the prospect of a 5,000-seat auditorium in their backyards.

Officials, planners and architects for the $45 million Towson Center expansion project, which is included in the 10-year master plan for the campus, will present drawings and discuss a timetable - construction is scheduled for later this year - during the session. The proposal includes a new arena and renovations that would make the current arena's gymnasium into practice courts, mostly for basketball and volleyball teams. The plan calls for a parking garage between the new arena and adjoining athletic fields.

Originally, the expansion would have extended the Towson Center onto the campus side of the site, near Johnny Unitas Stadium.

"Such a renovation pursuant to the master plan would likely have been largely acceptable to our community, as there would have been sufficient geographic buffer," Janice Moore, president of Rodgers Forge Community Inc., wrote in a letter to the university last week.

Those plans were altered - without neighbors' input - so that what is basically an entirely new building will now face south nearer the long-established neighborhood of nearly 1,800 homes, Moore said.

"The location comes as an unpleasant surprise to the Rodgers Forge community," Moore wrote. "These changed plans were never clearly communicated to the community."

Many of the arena's nearest neighbors on Stanmore Road and Stanmore Court have measured the space between their properties and the proposed location. About 30 feet separate the building site from the backyard of Kevin McGivern, a Stanmore Road resident. He says he is concerned about noise, particularly from concerts, as well as safety, parking and property values.

"They are talking about a huge building, a large parking lot and rock concerts," he said.

The expanded arena, the only one of its size in the area, would fill a niche in the community, said Marina Cooper, special assistant to the university president. The current building plays host to graduations for most high schools in the area. The expansion would also meet the university's needs for its athletic programs, housing playing courts, classrooms and exhibit space, she said. It would also be available for rentals.

"We looked at attendance rates for athletics and found this building will be adequate for our size and athletic conference," Cooper said.

Enrollment at the public university exceeds 21,000 and continues to grow. Members of the Greater Towson Council of Community Associations said they would prefer that the university build more on-campus housing rather than an arena. They said they have more questions about the need for an expanded arena rather than the location of one.

"The failure to provide campus housing is forcing more students off campus," said Ed Kilcullen, president of the council, which includes 30 communities. "Dorms are a higher priority, given the current arena is grossly underutilized. Attendance does not warrant 5,000 seats."

The meeting is to begin at 7 p.m. in the main gym of the Towson Center Arena, just off Osler Drive. Information: 410-704-3300.

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