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Trustees OK Cal State Sports Complex, Hotel

November 13, 1986|BILL BILLITER | Times Staff Writer

LONG BEACH — The long-proposed on-campus hotel and stadium-sports complex for Cal State Fullerton passed their final hurdle Wednesday.

Without debate on the issue, the California State University Board of Trustees concluded its two-day monthly meeting Wednesday afternoon by giving a unanimous voice vote to the Cal State Fullerton construction proposals.

The Fullerton campus president, Jewel Plummer Cobb, said the way now is cleared for construction to begin next summer on the 224-room Marriott Hotel, which will be the only hotel on a public university campus in California.

"It will take a little longer to get started on the sports complex because we have to have its plans approved (by CSU trustees), but we hope to get it under way some time next year," she said.

Completion of the hotel is scheduled for the fall of 1988. Cobb said Wednesday that she hopes to have the stadium and sports complex opened by the fall of 1989.

The hotel will be on Nutwood Avenue just off the Orange Freeway on land currently used as part of a parking lot. The unique arrangement guarantees financing for the campus sports complex. Part of the hotel profits will repay the City of Fullerton Redevelopment Agency, which is advancing the $6.7 million needed to build a 10,000-seat football-soccer stadium and a 2,000-seat baseball pavilion.

The vote of the trustees Wednesday was the last approval needed by the Fullerton university in its tortuous, 10-year struggle to find a way to finance and build the sports facilities. The 24,000-student Cal State campus currently has no place for its home football games and for years has rented Santa Ana's municipal field.

The lack of a home field has meant that the Cal State Fullerton football team schedules most of its games as road trips. Coach Gene Murphy noted recently that since 1980, there have been 76 Cal State Fullerton football games, 52 of them "away." University officials blame the low student turnout at "home" games on the fact that they are played in Santa Ana rather than on campus.

Since state money was in short supply, Cal State Fullerton sought private financing to build the sports complex. With the cooperation of the City of Fullerton, the campus worked out a plan for leasing a 3.1-acre plot to the city's Redevelopment Agency, which in turn would lease the land to a hotel builder. That plan took shape in early 1980.

RJS Development Inc. of Houston had agreed to build a 12-story hotel, and Cal State Fullerton seemed on the verge of starting construction, but in 1983, an environmental group, the Coalition for Student Action, opposed the hotel and tried to block it in court. It was June, 1984, before the state Supreme Court settled the case by refusing to review a lower court decision favorable to the university.

Development Firm Withdrew

But by then, economic conditions for new hotels had soured. RJS Development withdrew from the hotel project in June of 1985, saying "the market has changed since 1982, and the benefits to our company have greatly diminished." Cal State Fullerton and the City of Fullerton went back to the drawing boards and in December, 1985, announced that the Marriott Corp. of Bethesda, Md., had agreed to take over the project.

Marriott's proposal--approved by CSU trustees Wednesday--calls for two six-story towers rather than the 12-story high-rise planned by RJS.

The biggest battle for the hotel proposal came last month, when the Cal State Fullerton Faculty Senate expressed criticism. While the faculty group has no authority to grant or block construction projects on campus, President Cobb decided that she would nonetheless allow the Faculty Senate to decide the fate of the hotel and sports complex.

"It's a matter of collegiality," she said. "If the academic senate votes to oppose the proposal, it will be dropped."

Her gamble paid off. Although some faculty representatives complained about the growth of sports on the campus, the overall Faculty Senate endorsed the hotel and sports complex with a 38-4 vote. The City of Fullerton Redevelopment Agency followed with its final approval.

Guarantees Asked

On Tuesday, a Cal State Fullerton student group, the Multicultural Council, urged a CSU trustees' committee to insert requirements in the hotel proposal to guarantee priority hiring to students and priority to students wanting to rent facilities. Debate on that request caused some anxiety to hotel supporters.

But in the end, the trustees' committee simply added a paragraph that "encourages the negotiation of agreements with Marriott Corp. which promote priority employment . . . and priority use" of the hotel by students.

University officials said the language is not legally binding and wouldn't "scare off" Marriott from proceeding with construction.

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