Portland State's new arena project gaining momentum

Portland State's new arena project gaining momentum
February 8, 2013, 8:30 am

I've had plenty of frustration over the years with the Portland State athletic department. And as an alumnus and former coach there (yeah, I was actually fortunate enough to serve as an assistant baseball coach for three years at PSU -- long before they dropped the sport. But that's another story) I think I'm entitled.

One of my biggest complaints was a lack of vision and a minor-league mentality that fits perfectly with the city in which the university is located. For the state's biggest university, it acts sometimes as if it's Podunk U. But I think that's changing. And the project to make Viking Pavilion a reality is a sign of big change afoot on the PSU campus.

The $54 million, 5,500-seat arena project is quietly underway and gaining steam. The goal of $30 million in private donations to make the arena a reality is looking reachable, thanks to the tireless work of campaign chair Peter Stott, the man whose name is on the current basketball venue, the Stott Center.

"The architectural design of the building highlights transparency and accessibility," said Francoise Aylmer, PSU's vice president for university advancement. "And I am proud that as a leading urban university we are able to secure seven- and eight-figure gifts."

The university is asking for $24 million in state bonds for the remainder of the funding.

"If the legislature votes to fund the project during the current session, and we raise the necessary private support, the project could be completed by late 2015," Stott said.

The new arena, which at least in all the renderings I've seen is a beautiful structure, would be plopped down on top of the current Stott Center and a good portion of the expansive concourse would be dedicated to academic pursuits such as study centers, along with academic and business innovation labs. The plan is for more than 140 public events a year, with the school finally having a big enough gathering place for its students and alumni for major events.

"PSU has the least square footage per student of our seven state universities," Stott said.  "The Viking Pavilion will become a central gathering place for students to work collaboratively using the 22,000 new square feet of study space and the new 14,000-square foot academic center.  It is located next to, and will become an annex of, our currently over-populated library."

On the athletics side, it's always been a frustration of mine that the school has been trying to play Division I basketball in an arena that allowed barely a thousand spectators. Which isn't often full, by the way. That needs to change in a big way and the new arena is a large first step that must be followed with a bigger commitments to excellence and funding.

I wish them luck in making their dream a reality. So often athletics provides the impetus for other university growth -- in enrollment, overall gifts and a higher profile for the university. Portland State needs, and deserves, the shot in the arm Viking Pavilion would bring.