Meeting on TU arena expansion draws hundreds

The Baltimore Sun

They arrived with numerous signs saying "Halt TU arena now." They circulated a petition against the proposed $45 million Towson Center expansion, and they besieged university officials with questions as to why the building was being constructed.

Towson University officials provided campus neighbors with maps, architectural drawings and a construction timetable for the expansion project last night during a meeting between university officials and Rodgers Forge residents.

Groundbreaking for the 5,000-seat addition to the center is scheduled for spring 2010. In addition to the arena, the project includes renovations that would make the current arena's gymnasium into practice courts, mostly for basketball and volleyball teams, and additional parking 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. But plans were changed, without the community viewpoint, residents said. The new orientation of the building brings it closer to the Rodgers Forge community.

"You work closely with this community to find an acceptable, original site," said Pat Foretich of Stanmore Court. "We want you to thrive, but why can't TU be a good neighbor?"

State lawmakers and Baltimore County Executive James T. Smith Jr. have written to university President Robert L. Caret, asking for cooperation with neighbors concerned that the proximity of the new arena will hurt their quality of life.

Residents "feel they have had no input in the plans for a facility that is being placed uncomfortably close to their homes," Sen. James Brochin wrote in a letter also signed by the three delegates representing the area.

Several hundred people attended the meeting, and many of them stood the entire time because there weren't enough seats.

Dozens of residents called for halting the project until their views are considered.

"Towson is not embracing this community," said Gina Olivieri of Rodgers Forge. "If you want people to support you, where is your outreach?"

Others wanted the current arena to be renovated and resources directed to the construction of on-campus housing.

"Why are you spending $45 million in this economy when you don't have enough on-campus housing now?" said Jimmy Golden of Rodgers Forge.

Residents frequently interrupted James Sheehan, vice president of administration for finance at the university, and questioned his information.

TU has moved into Division I with its sports program and faces challenging competition, he said: "Look around. This whole arena needs work. It looks more like a high school gym."

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